LANSING — Governor Rick Snyder promoted a veteran state appellate judge to the Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday, becoming the first governor to have appointed a majority of the court since the state began electing justices in the 1850s.
Kurtis Wilder, a conservative state appeals judge for 18 years, will finish the remainder of former Justice Robert Young Jr.'s term and can run for election to a full eight-year term in November 2018. Young resigned last month to return to a Detroit law firm and has been courted as a potential Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Wilder, like Young, is black and will become the fifth African-American justice in state history.
"As a justice, I will continue to be dedicated to the equal justice under the law for all citizens in Michigan," Wilder said during a news conference at Snyder's office that was attended by Wilder's parents and adult children. He later said: "The courts ought to say what the law is, not what it ought to be."
Wilder is the Republican governor's fourth appointee to the high court, which is controlled 5-2 by Republican justices. The other three were subsequently elected. One of them, Joan Larsen, will be nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so Snyder will have another appointment to make if she is confirmed by the Senate.
Snyder called Wilder an "outstanding individual" who has "built a long, successful track record of being a good rule-of-law judge."
Supreme Court spokesman John Nevin said other governors have named more justices to the bench, but Snyder is the first to have appointed a majority that will serve at the same time since governors stopped solely appointing justices in the 1850s.
Wilder, 58, of Wayne County's Canton Township, was named to the Court of Appeals by Gov. John Engler in 1998 and was later elected four times. He previously was chief judge in Washtenaw County and worked as an attorney for two law firms. He graduated from the University of Michigan with bachelor's and law degrees.
Wilder has participated in a sweeping range of cases at the appeals court, from felony convictions to nasty divorces to the level of a lake.
In 2007, he said a voter-approved constitutional amendment about marriage made it illegal for local governments to offer benefits to same-sex partners.
"We feel constrained to observe at the outset that this case is not about the lifestyles or personal living decisions of individual citizens," Wilder wrote for a three-judge panel. "Rather, it is about whether the marriage amendment may permissibly impose certain limitations on the state and its governmental subdivisions."
The Supreme Court agreed, although the issue eventually became moot because of subsequent decisions in favor of same-sex couples in federal court.
On Tuesday, Wilder cited as a "nice accomplishment" the Supreme Court's 2014 decision upholding his position that plaintiffs in many cases had been awarded attorney fees to which they were not entitled in lawsuits alleging Open Meetings Act violations.
Associated Press writer Ed White contributed from Detroit