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First Blind Judge Elected to Michigan Supreme Court
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Richard Bernstein is the first blind person to be elected to the Supreme Court of Michigan.

Summary: Richard Bernstein, who will be sworn in on January 1 to serve on Michigan’s Supreme Court, will be the first blind judge to hold this position in the state.

Richard Bernstein has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t stopped him from obtaining a law degree and, now, taking the bench at the highest court in the state of Michigan. “I want to bring blind justice to the Michigan Supreme Court,” Bernstein proclaimed when he was a candidate for the seat. On New Year’s Day, he will be sworn into office. Bernstein will be the first blind person to ever serve at the Supreme Court of Michigan.

  
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The Wall Street Journal reports that Bernstein is well-known in southeastern Michigan. His family’s personal injury firm advertises on television often, and he spent $1.8 million of his personal money to fund his campaign for the Supreme Court. He used the slogan “Blind Justice.”

A few years ago, the National Conference of Bar Examiners appealed a court’s decision that ordered the entity to provide accommodations for a blind law student.

Although Bernstein will serve as one of two Democrats on a seven-member panel, Bernstein is expected to impact the court significantly. Justice Bridget McCormack, who was elected in 2012, said, “His own experience and background is different than anyone else’s at the conference table. Richard knows a whole lot about disability law the rest of us don’t. We don’t get a lot of those cases. Who knows how it will be useful?”

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This past November, Bernstein was elected to an eight-year term on the court. Though he is the first blind judge in Michigan’s highest court, he is not the first blind justice on a state supreme court in the United States. Justice Richard B. Teitelman was appointed to Missouri’s Supreme Court in 2002. Judge David Tatel also serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and is blind.

Last year, a disabled man was awarded $8,000 after he was trapped on a Disney World ride.

How does Bernstein prepare for oral arguments? For his first round of oral arguments set for January 13, an assistant has been preparing him by reading him briefs. Bernstein said, “We do use technology but technology can only take you so far. I internalize the cases word for word, pretty much commit them primarily by memory. I’m asking the reader to pinpoint certain things, read footnotes, look at the legislative record.”

Another Michigan judge is being investigated after one of his interns drove drunk.

During his time as a candidate for the position, Bernstein described his disability as an advantage, not a disadvantage. He said, “Because you have to deal with it and it really expresses what justice is. I am blind, and justice—real justice—is blind. Programs and services are great, but people also have to understand on a personal level…a blind person can’t prejudge others.”

Photo credit: crainsdetroit.com



 

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