GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Hillsdale alumnus and Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano was unanimously nominated by conservative delegates at the state Republican convention Saturday, officially securing his spot on the November ballot.
“We’ve had the unified support of the Republican Party for a rule-of-law majority now in Michigan for some period of years,” Viviano said in an interview with The Collegian. “People recognize that the court is one of the areas of government that is working well. And it’s because we know and understand our role well.”
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen was unanimously nominated with Viviano Saturday, also advocating for Viviano’s campaign theme of maintaining a rule-of-law philosophy on the bench.
“That really just means judges who limit themselves to their role of interpreting and applying the law faithfully and with fidelity to the cases that come before the court,” Viviano said.
When former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway retired, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Viviano in February 2013. In 2014, Viviano won the general election, securing his partial term.
“For me, getting through the general election was very significant,” Viviano said. “And having the governor’s choice approved by the voters was important to me.”
But now Viviano is looking to pursue a full eight-year term and is running as one of Michigan’s “rule of law judges.” For Viviano, however, it’s more than a campaign slogan, it’s a judicial philosophy, one the 1996 graduate said he cultivated at Hillsdale College.
“The concepts of the separation of powers and limited government is how I understand a judge’s role through the framework of the Constitution,” Viviano said.
Viviano and Larsen were joined on the campaign trail by senior Bridget DeLapp, Viviano’s niece.
During her three months with the campaign, DeLapp said she has seen overwhelming support for her uncle’s ideas.
“He has a lot of success because he reaches out to a lot of individual people,” DeLapp said. “It’s important to him to express his judicial philosophy to as many people as possible. We are traveling 10 – 12 hours a week all over the state. I’ve seen a very positive reaction to what they are saying at the convention.”
Although Viviano is running unopposed for his seat, Libertarian Kerry Morgan is challenging Larsen, his fellow “rule of law judge.” DeLapp said Larsen’s judicial philosophy, however, has risen above politics.
“Justice Larsen comes out very strong,” Delapp said. “She clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, and her philosophy has been straight on rule of law, and people just fall in love with her, when they meet her.”
She also won over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Following Scalia’s death, Larsen was placed on a shortlist of 11 potential candidates Trump said he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court.
“It was a shock and a surprise,” Larsen said. “The other 10 judges on the list are esteemed judges, and the ones that I know are very good people. I was very pleased to be in their company.”
Snyder appointed Larsen in September 2015, replacing Justice Mary Beth Kelly after she resigned. Larsen said the appointment took her by surprise.
“I was actually teaching at University of Michigan Law School, when I got the nomination,” Larsen said. “I knew that I was going to be nominated on a Tuesday, I was officially nominated on Wednesday, taught my last two classes on Thursday and Friday, and showed up at the court on Monday.”
Since Scalia’s death, Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have made filling the national Supreme Court a major talking point in both of their campaigns.
Although both Larsen and Viviano said they are bound by the canon of judicial ethics when it comes to endorsing partisan political candidates, they both said the next president needs to follow what Michigan has done for several years now — appoint strong, rule-of-law candidates.
“We need a rule-of-law majority on the national Supreme Court, and I’ve always thought that, ever since I was a student at Hillsdale,” Viviano said. “I’ve learned and read from the greats such as Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Those are the type of people we need on the Supreme Court. It’s not a partisan idea, and I hope the new president will get behind the idea like Michigan has gotten behind it.”