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Kyra Harris Bolden: Justice across generations

November 13, 2023 1:31:29
Kaltura Video

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Harris Bolden discusses her journey to the Michigan Supreme Court and the intersection of race and the law in the past and present. November, 2023.


0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Hey, good afternoon. I am Celeste Watkins Hayes, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy here at the University of Michigan. And I also serve as the founding director of the Center for Racial Justice here at the Ford School. I'm delighted to welcome all of you this afternoon to our policy talks at the Ford School event. Today's event is part of the Harry A. And Margaret D. Towsley Foundation lecture series, hosted by our Towsley policymaker in residence, judge Laurel Beatty Blunt.


0:00:42.4 S1: Judge Beatty Blunt sits on the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus, Ohio, to which she was elected in 2018. She's previously served on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas for nine years. Her legal career started in private practice and then moved to the public sphere when she became director of Legislative Affairs and counsel to the Voting Rights Institute for the Ohio Secretary of State. In that role, judge Beatty Blunt served as liaison to the Ohio General Assembly and 88 County Boards of Elections. Of course, election integrity remains a potent issue today. She will be speaking with Michigan's Supreme Court Justice Kyra Harris Bolden welcome, welcome.


0:01:30.1 S1: Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Justice Bolden to the bench just one year ago, making her the first black woman to serve on the State's highest court. She had been a state legislator in the Michigan House for four years, and prior to that she worked in private practice and also a state attorney in the Third Circuit Court of Wayne County and is a court appointed criminal defense attorney for the 46th District Court of Southfield. These two judicial leaders have their own stories about their journeys to the bench, and their stories go back generations. As Judge Beatty Blunt described to me in different ways their grandfathers endured racism, exclusion, and barriers of all kinds. And now here they are, while we, of course, continue to confront racism and bigotry, we can see progress through their stories. We look forward to an interesting and enlightening discussion. There will be time for questions at the end. We have two colleagues here who will be passing around microphones, so look out for them during the Q&A. Katrina's here. Wonderful. With that, please join me in welcoming the judges, judge Beatty Blunt [laughter] And Justice Bolden.

0:02:39.8 Speaker 2: Yes. [0:02:46.5] ____ the judges. It makes it sound like we just need to take this on the road.

0:02:51.8 S?: I know. I love that. [laughter], maybe you can start a podcast.

0:02:53.1 S2: Exactly. [laughter] Justice Bolden, first of all, thank you. Thank you. A million times over for being here. It was somewhat of a professional courtesy from one judge to another, so thank you very much for lending us your time.

0:03:08.1 Speaker 3: Yes, my pleasure. My Pleasure.

0:03:10.2 S2: So, I wanted to start with history.

0:03:14.7 S3: Yes.

0:03:15.9 S2: For me, I was a question asker as a child, and so I heard a lot of my grandparents' stories. And so I am very aware that the really, the success of my family came from my grandfather owning one of two black restaurants that black people were permitted to dine at in Columbus, Ohio. Through them telling me about history, I learned that their restaurant was in the Green Book, and the Green Book being kind of the guide for black travelers of that time of restaurants and hotels. It was safe to go to, I mean, the Green Book was their marketing plan. Talk a little bit about your family's history with racism.

0:04:06.2 S3: Yeah. So I've been very public about my family's history, because I think it's important to know a person's motivation for engaging, especially on this level. And for me, I was a question asker, but this, the story of my great-grandfather was actually never discussed.

0:04:30.1 S2: Yes, yes. That's...

0:04:31.7 S3: In our family. My great-grandmother who I had the great fortune of having until senior year of college.

0:04:39.0 S2: Oh, wow.

0:04:40.9 S3: Yeah. I wonderful, wonderful woman. So it was when she was getting older and between her stories and her boys, which were the Tigers baseball game, and looking out of her window and making sure everything was on the up and up. She would just start telling me stories. She wanted to tell me recipes and all these different things. And she told me the story of my great-grandfather, Jesse Lee Bond, and he was a cotton farmer in Tennessee, and he was lynched in 1939 after asking a store owner for a receipt. And a question that I usually get is, why would someone be lynched for asking for a receipt? And my response is always, it wasn't the receipt, it was the audacity.

0:05:41.9 S2: Right. Right.

0:05:44.0 S3: For a 19, 20 year old to essentially want verification that the store owner was being truthful about what was owed and how much things cost. And so a lynch mob ensued and he, Jesse Lee Bond was beaten and castrated and thrown into the local river, and the coroner deemed it an accidental drowning. And there is a documentary about my, this lynching called accidental drowning, if there's anyone that's interested. My family did a wonderful job telling the story of my great-grandfather, but as a result, his murders were acquitted of the crime because of the coroner's designation, that it was an accidental drowning. And in hearing that, I always had a strong sense of justice, which I'm sure you did, did too. [laughter]

0:06:47.4 S2: Right. Yeah.

0:06:48.0 S3: I would always, my favorite phrase growing up was, that's not fair.


0:06:54.5 S2: You probably said it just like that.

0:06:55.1 S3: I did, I did my mama say it's time for bed. That's not fair, [laughter] because my sister stayed up until whatever time when she was my age, I literally, I would bring the, and bring the receipts. Right. So hearing that, and then there are some other things that happened, but it just kind of fueled my sense for justice. And realizing that it happened in my own family. It made it really real for me that it wasn't just something that happened in history, which I knew, but that it was only a couple generations removed from me that government sanction and justice was the norm.

0:07:38.8 S2: Right. Right. And isn't it, it is impactful that this is your family's story and someone who you love, who is a part of your family, was the one that told it to you. It wasn't something that you read in a book or you saw in a movie. And so, I would imagine for you, like me, when your family's story is questioned or not received well, it can be very hurtful.

0:08:10.5 S3: Yeah. I did have several people reach out to me and tell me that I was disgusting for essentially using my family's story to try to garner support. And I will say behind the scenes, I had to have a really deep conversation with my family members, my mother, my grandmother, who's still living, to make sure that it was okay to tell this story because it had been kept from me until I was an adult in college. And so the hurt and the pain and anger that's associated with it is very real. And I would have never discussed it without having that conversation with my family because it, it's, it was difficult for them.

0:08:54.5 S2: Right.

0:08:57.1 S3: It wasn't, it wasn't even just just about me, but I also had to explain that it is important to tell these stories. It is important for people to know that we are not so far removed and that history can repeat itself if we're not vigilant. And so, the comments, it, they bothered me at first, but then at some point, you just get a sense of resolve, which you have, you just have to build up and just say, look, this is me. This is my story, this is my family, and this is who I am. And I can't shy away from that. And if that, if you make a decision to not support me or what, then that just has to be your decision. But I can't change what happened in my family. And I'm also going to continue to discuss it because I think it's important. It's an important part of my story and important to who I am and important to our society as well. So, but there were many conversations about actually me being vocal about that our, my great-grandfather's story.

0:10:11.2 S2: And it can even lead to some, knowledge of your history could even lead to some interesting moments in law school. When you're taught like constitutional law, criminal law, criminal procedure, and did you like me find yourself sometimes thinking, oh, but not necessarily for everyone.

0:10:36.6 S3: Oh, yeah.

0:10:39.5 S2: Or man, how many things in the Bill of Rights were violated with Emmett Till case alone? 

0:10:43.3 S3: Right. I mean, just so many things. And when you, when you say we, the people. Who are we talking about? When you say that women were able to vote, which women? 

0:11:01.1 S2: Right.

0:11:04.6 S3: Were able to vote at a particular time. And I think there needs to be real truth telling because how can you, explain where we are today without understanding our history? 

0:11:23.3 S2: Right.

0:11:26.4 S3: And why this is so momentous for a lot of people. For example, obviously I'm the, I shouldn't say, obviously, I'm the first black woman to sit on the Michigan Supreme Court for those that didn't know and yes, no [laughter] And I don't say that for applause. And actually, it kind of makes me cringe because it's 2023 and to me, it's just unacceptable.

0:11:49.2 S2: Right. You're taking my next question, actually. Go ahead.

0:11:50.1 S3: I'm sorry. No, go ahead, [laughter] Go ahead.

0:11:53.4 S2: No, no, I'm kidding. I'm kidding.


0:12:01.2 S3: Okay. I'm sorry. Unhook the other one. Just set it on the side. Okay. [laughter] No, please go ahead.

0:12:10.7 S2: Oh, no. [laughter], knowing all of that, I'm the first black woman on my court too, and I just, when I when someone told me that, I just never really thought, I'm like, wow, it's this century and they're still first, like, I just didn't.

0:12:26.3 S3: Exactly. And that, that's exactly how I felt or feel still to this day because it's almost, you have to celebrate it because of our history, but if you don't acknowledge it, it's almost as if saying that there was not a qualified black woman before me. Right? 

0:12:47.3 S2: Right.

0:12:47.3 S3: And that's not the case. I have supported and worked towards this goal for years because I think representation is so important. And so, it's really hard for me to say that I'm the first black woman because I know a lot of the black women that have that fought so hard for this position. And again, it's 2023, this is just unacceptable. This is just unacceptable. So...

0:13:22.6 S2: But we just have to make sure that, we might be the first, but that doesn't mean that there's not gonna be second thirds and fourths.

0:13:29.6 S3: Absolutely.

0:13:30.8 S2: So tell me a little bit about your journey to the bench.

0:13:36.7 S3: Okay.

0:13:37.0 S2: I know it goes through the state house.

0:13:40.6 S3: It does. And I'll skip ahead to that. But well, maybe I won't because it, I think other things were really important especially to you all, because I know a lot of people see me and they're just thinking, or sometimes maybe you're not, maybe I shouldn't assume she has it all together, she's been planning this since she was two years old and the fact of the matter is, I never intended on going to law school or pursuing a career in law until really my senior year. And obviously the story of my great-grandmother happened. And quite frankly, I didn't wanna be a psychologist, but I got my psychology degree because we're not starting over, am I Right? Okay.

0:14:25.2 S2: Right.


0:14:27.7 S3: So I actually had to take a year off because I did not plan to go to law school right after college. So I took a year off, studied for the LSAT, went to law school and graduated at a time where the economy was absolutely terrible.

0:14:45.7 S2: Oh.

0:14:46.8 S3: They were talking about making the bar exam even harder to reduce the amount of attorneys because there weren't any jobs. And so, I, because of the relationships that I built and being part of bar organizations and things like that, I actually had a couple of judges that pulled me aside and they said, obviously you take a course for, to do criminal law, to get certified, to get court appointed cases, but they said, you can take court appointed cases in my court. And that's how I initially got my start.

0:15:22.4 S3: One of the judges that I practiced in front of, judge Shelia Johnson, who also ran for Michigan Supreme Court, we became very, very close when there was a job available for judge John A. Murphy, who I clerked for. That job wasn't posted. He sent it to one of the bar associations. She said, you need to apply for this job. I'm sending you a recommendation. Send your application today. So he ended up, obviously I interviewed and sent writing samples, but he ended up selecting me. Now again, this was a position that's, that was not posted. And so if anybody can garner anything from this conversation, there are gonna be, there're going to be a lot of jobs that are not posted. You have to build your network enough that when something comes available, you get the call.

0:16:13.9 S2: Yeah.

0:16:17.4 S3: And that is just how a lot of it works, it is who you know, obviously you have to be prepared, you have to do well. You have to be qualified, but you also have to be in the room. And because I had been in the room, I was referred when I went to my civil litigation practice, that job wasn't posted. My partner was actually one of my mentors through a bar association that I was a part of. And she had, we had had lunch once a year and just kept the relationship, never expected to work for her, but I was clerking as a judicial law clerk and she texted me and said, Hey, my law firm's looking for an associate. Would you be interested? I don't know how many other people she texted, but I have a feeling that I might've been one of three.

0:17:15.6 S3: So I very unprofessionally said Yes, [laughter], I did. I texted her back 'cause we were friends at the time. I said, I'm so sorry. I will send my resume close of business and my writing samples. And again, that's just how a lot of this works. And even running for state representative, I had to be asked, I was at my law firm job, I'm doing civil litigation. I was thinking about maybe running for city council. Definitely running for the State House was not on my radar at all. But sometimes people will see something in you that you don't see in yourself. And that's why you have to continuously work hard, and it may not be as boisterous as others, but people are watching you. They're watching everything you do. And I'm always a person that just kind of quietly does the work and, you know, minds my business.

0:18:22.1 S3: So I was asked to run for the house seat multiple times because I said, no, I've never run a campaign before. I'm never, never done that. They finally convinced me, [laughter] and I took a lead from my law firm job, and thankfully they were supportive of that. And they said, if you win, then great, if you lose, you can come back. And that comes from building great relationships that I had with them. So I knew I had a safety net, but I also didn't have any income. So [laughter] So I used all my savings and I ended up winning my primary with 45% of the vote with five opponents.

0:19:03.2 S2: Wow.

0:19:07.8 S3: Because there was, when I put my mind to something, I'm gonna work hard. I... And it may not be super loud, but I'm going to do what's necessary. And so how we got here, I'm just trying to make sure that people know that it wasn't, one, I wasn't plucked out of obscurity because people think that a lot about, particularly black women in positions of power. And so I just wanna address that. I was not plucked out of obscurity and certainly not a token. But I was quietly doing the work in the legislature. I was able to get five bills passed into law. I sat on the judiciary committee for four years, built great relationships within my caucus and on across the aisle. Because as you know, we served in the minority. So if you don't have great relationships, you don't get a bill passed. And that's, or if you don't have a good idea, you're not gonna get a...

0:20:10.1 S2: Right. You wouldn't have gotten the five [0:20:11.3] ____.

0:20:11.9 S3: No, no, no, no. But some of the bills that I was able to get passed were just common sense. So amending the medically frail act, which allowed for parole for those that were in prison that met the criteria. So people that were in... There are people in prison that are in comas that can't get parole because of how the law worked. Address...

0:20:38.4 S2: It's a great use of tax dollars.

0:20:41.2 S3: Again, I was just trying to save people money and help. The address confidentiality act, which I just read, is going into effect now, which conceals the address of victims of sexual violence. And I amended the wrong form Imprisonment Compensation Act so that more people were able to get compensated for, if they were wrongly in prison. So I'm just minding my business quietly doing the work. And in June of 2021, I was asked to run for the Michigan Supreme Court, and I said, no, because I am 34. I have a great job that I love in the legislature. I'm making a huge difference for my community and people across the state of Michigan. So I didn't really see a benefit for me to run much less against two incumbents.

0:21:46.7 S3: There were a lot of negatives here. And if I didn't win, then I would be giving up my job in the legislature. But what ended up happening was I got pregnant. And as much as my thought process initially was, I don't want to run for office, a statewide office while being pregnant, while having a full-time job in the legislature. As my baby girl grew inside, my narrative switch to how could I ever tell my child that she could be anything that she wanted to be. And I had the opportunity...

0:22:33.4 S2: A job like judge. Being pretty can hurt you because people auto... When they think of a judge, they think of an older white wise man. And that was not you. You might've been wise, but people had to get through a lot of things before they could ever tell whether you were wise or not.

0:23:00.3 S3: No. That's very true. And I'm also very... I'm just also very... As some may describe, and this may not be the right word, but I'm very extroverted. Some might say bubbly. I'm very smiley, some might say. And I went somewhere and the person that I was there to see didn't know that I was the justice, and she said, you don't look mean. Judges looked mean. I would've never known that you were the justice. And so yeah, that is an extra layer of just, I will say this, being young, people will assume that you're unqualified.

0:23:56.2 S2: Exactly.

0:23:57.9 S3: Being a black woman, people are going to assume that you're unqualified. Being pregnant...

0:24:05.5 S2: Oh, yes.

0:24:07.3 S3: Or having young kids, people are going to assume that you cannot do the job.

0:24:11.8 S2: Or what are you doing out here trying to do the job even? You supposed to be at home.

0:24:15.3 S3: Yeah. Go sit at home and bake. And so I definitely had a lot of things that I had to combat as far as a narrative. But I just decided I'm going to be me, and I'm just gonna bring my full self to the table. And I think it's important that in some ways, the judiciary is going to have to change because of me. And not the other way around. I think that I bring skills and experiences that none of the current justices have. And I think that that's how it's supposed to be. That's why there are seven of us to bring diversity and thought process because Michiganders are not a monolith and neither should our courts. And so I am very happy that 1.3 million people saw fit to vote for me in that election, but I did still lose. So I just wanna be clear on, I acknowledge that I lost that election and then Yes, was appointed by the governor.

0:25:29.2 S2: So that could not have been easy because you don't travel around an entire state...

0:25:34.2 S3: Pregnant...

0:25:35.6 S2: Pregnant and all that comes with that. You don't travel around an entire state pregnant and work that hard for something and not be disappointed. So, how'd you get back up? 

0:25:49.4 S3: I... At that point, well, let me start by saying. When I entered the race, I knew that there was a very, very high likelihood that I wouldn't make it, right? So, I don't think that I'm just that great that overcoming two incumbents is very, very difficult to do. And I knew that going in. Again, for me, it was important that representation was at the table so that we could continue to move the needle. But I did work very hard and, I went to the UP when I was seven months pregnant and then two months postpartum. And some of you may know that I accepted the nomination for Michigan Supreme Court six days after giving birth, so... Yeah.

0:26:38.9 S2: Wow.

0:26:41.4 S3: There are videos. There are videos of that @Kyrahbolden, follow me on social media. But yeah, so I got up and did a speech and just accepted the nomination. So worked extremely hard. So it was very disappointing for me when I didn't win, even though I knew all the odds were stacked against me. But I was almost instantly uplifted. And it was funny because I was still getting phone calls of, I'm so sorry. And I was... And, but I looked at the numbers. And like I said, when 1.3 million people take the time to, I'm sorry, I'm still like a year postpartum, so I get emotional very quickly. But, with 1.3 million people in Michigan took the time to bubble in my name. And so I was instantly uplifted because it, that is such an honor in and of itself that even though I lost that election, it just, it really touched me that my message resonated with people for those types of numbers.

0:28:07.5 S2: Well, if you've got 1.3 million votes pregnant, imagine what happens next time.

0:28:10.4 S3: I know.

0:28:12.7 S2: When your feet aren't swollen.

0:28:15.3 S3: I know. Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

0:28:18.8 S2: So, I wanna talk to you a little bit about what you see in the future our, even within the law, our nation is very polarized right now on lots of different things. There are a lot of people that are feeling disillusioned particularly about the law's impact on racism. Tell me, having served on the bench now, having gone from the legislative branch to the judicial branch, what's your take? 

0:28:58.4 S3: I am just so hopeful because even just looking at this audience, this audience could be anywhere doing anything right now, and you're taking the time to listen to the both of us, and I just have so much hope for the future. What I have seen from this generation has been amazing. The level of enthusiasm, the level of activism, and the level of demanding change. It just uplifts me. I am so inspired by this next generation, by my own generation too, I guess we're still technically young, but definitely by the next generation, just the level of being involved. Knowing what's going on and fighting for what they believe in. I think our future is in good hands, and I'm very, very hopeful.

0:30:08.8 S2: How would you say, because these are students at the University of Michigan, one of very well respected university, and I'm saying that even though I'm from Ohio. But anyway, what would you tell them, Justice Bolden about preparing themselves for leadership, I've talked in both of my classes teaching here. Like, you have to be prepared for when you are the decision maker. Talk a little bit about that.

0:30:35.7 S3: Yeah. I would just say mentorship is so important. For you to be a mentor and for you to have mentors. I have mentors that are younger than me. So I'm not talking about age. Someone that has a different experience than you that you can learn from, and always be concerned about imparting your knowledge on somebody else. You can't be in the competition mindset because you never know where your career will take you, who you'll run into, and what will be a full circle moment. For example Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who was a professor here, who was my predecessor, her campaign was the first campaign I ever worked on. And she robed, she robed me. The first time I put on a robe, she literally took off her robe and put it on my back.

0:31:36.1 S2: That's a very special moment.

0:31:37.9 S3: It was. And you can go to Kyrahbolden on Instagram to see that video too. But it was a wonderful full circle moment, and I've had those throughout my career. And so networking, getting to know as many people as possible, mentorship, but you also have to learn to follow before you can lead. And I know that's gonna be unpopular to say, but how do you know what you like, what you don't like, what your style might be if you haven't had those experiences? So the judge that I worked for was a baby boomer, or he is a baby boomer. He's still alive, he's just retired. He is a baby boomer. And so it was get to the office before. You don't leave until the judge leaves. It was very, very stringent.

0:32:42.5 S3: And I loved having that experience because now I understand how I run my chambers is just a little bit different. You know, I always had to the call the judge, judge never by their first name. So my staff called me Kyra. But I'm glad I had those experiences with different bosses or different partners or whatever. So that I knew my style of how I wanted to lead. And not to say that anything that anybody did was bad. I had really good experiences, but I was just able to hone my own leadership skills by being a good employee, being a good follower. Being a good mentee.

0:33:25.2 S2: I am teaching this semester a class on state and local courts. And one of the things that I've talked a lot about in my class is that, yes, it is easier to study federal law, particularly when it comes to like criminal justice, but there are so many areas that impact everyday people's lives that are exclusively a matter that's in state courts. The courts you're most likely to come in contact with are traffic court, which is a local court, and unfortunately, divorce court. So Justice Bolden, what's your take on the importance of state and local courts in our society? 

0:34:12.8 S3: Well for me, because I lived in the state of Michigan my entire life, and I also had the benefit of making laws, right? And so being someone that interprets, sometimes the law that I voted on, I think it is really important. I think federal jurisprudence is a little bit more sexy, you know? 

0:34:38.2 S2: Oh, it is.

0:34:38.3 S3: But the state law and how it's interpreted is really what's going to affect your lives, what has affected your parents' lives, and what will affect future generations to come. And so the decisions that the Michigan Supreme Court makes absence some intervention at the United States Supreme Court level, that is binding on the people that live here. And so you should absolutely pay attention to who your judges are certainly because they are going to be making the decisions about your life, how you get sentenced. Judges have a lot of discretion, but certainly with cases that come to the Michigan Supreme Court, we hear the most important and impactful cases for Michiganders. And I think it's really important for people to pay attention. Not only to how we're voting, but the cases that are coming up, how we're voting, but also the temperament of each judge or justice as well is incredibly important.

0:35:54.9 S2: Absolutely. I think the, my prediction is that, and it might already be happening in Michigan, I think in Ohio, it will definitely happen. And that is once the Dobbs decision sent the question about abortion back to the states, that was always going to go through state and local courts. Once the decision went back to the states and even with Ohio, there was an amendment, a constitutional amendment passed recently. And so I'm telling people, it doesn't matter what side you're on, it doesn't matter whether you agree, the importance of the Ohio Supreme Court is going to really come into play, so you better pay attention.

0:36:35.2 S3: Absolutely. And we've already seen that here. We passed an amendment. There have been lawsuits in the past, different decisions that have been made that have been really impactful on Michiganders. And it's how the laws were interpreted. It might be a constitutional amendment, but sometimes those things come to our courts for interpretation. Because they can't catch everything in a constitutional amendment. They can't catch, a former lawmaker here. They don't catch everything. There's literally no way to contemplate every single situation that will arise when you're crafting a law. And so a lot of that is going to end up in the courts for interpretation. And how it's interpreted matters, and it will be binding on how you live your life.

0:37:37.0 S2: Exactly. Especially your court.

0:37:38.8 S3: Yes.


0:37:41.5 S2: Especially in your court.

0:37:41.6 S3: Well, yours too because you know 90... What 90-something percent will go to the Court of Appeals right? 

0:37:49.4 S2: Oh that's true.

0:37:49.5 S3: And we take up probably 2% or 3% of Court of Appeals appeals, but for us, 90% to 98% will stop at the Court of Appeals.

0:38:04.4 S2: That's true, that's true. I think the Ohio Supreme Court, when they looked at at least my courts district, they took five percent of the cases that were appealed from my court. So you're right, I need to give myself more credit.

0:38:17.0 S3: Yes, absolutely. Let's clap...



0:38:21.1 S3: Applause for Court of Appeals.


0:38:25.5 S2: I wanted to talk to you about running for judge, the electoral process, because it was very different, I'm sure that than when you ran for the state house, you have many more rules and you're running state-wide versus a state house district. How was that? 

0:38:51.1 S3: Very different. Very different, but kind of the same. It's strange. You always want to talk to as many people as possible. Obviously, going from a district of 90,000 to 3 million is a challenge, is a fit But for me, when I was in the district, it was... I'm knocking on 10,000 doors, right? When I was in the State House, it was literal door-knocking and asking people for support. That doesn't work as well on a state level as you might imagine.

0:39:29.2 S2: Right, yeah I bet, that's a lot of doors.

0:39:29.8 S3: So it's different tactics, but as a judge, obviously... Well, I should say, let me step back, when you're running for a legislative position people expect you to have an opinion on everything on every single thing. If you don't post a holiday, people are going to be in your inbox. You have to be at a lot of different events and things like that. Being a judge, obviously, you're restricted from... You can engage in partisan activities 'cause you still have your First Amendment rights, but it's a non-partisan position, and you have to make sure that you're not being too disproportionate in where you go and what you do, we also have judicial canons that prohibit you from engaging in certain levels of speech and things like that, because you can...

0:40:37.7 S2: Are you not allowed to ask for money? 

0:40:38.0 S3: Not allowed to ask for money.

0:40:38.5 S2: Yeah, we're not allowed to ask for money either.

0:40:42.0 S3: Which... I won't comment.


0:40:42.4 S3: But as a legislator, that's a big part of your job.

0:40:48.7 S2: That's a huge part.

0:40:49.3 S3: It's a huge part of your job is to ask for money, and so that is very, very different. So what you can say, The asking for money, where you can go, very, very different.

0:41:05.3 S2: It can be awkward too, I found people want you to... They don't necessarily realize, you are not a policy maker as a judge, we interpret the law, other people make the law.

0:41:20.4 S3: Yes.

0:41:21.4 S2: And so I found that some voters would get frustrated because I could not state a position on a certain policy. Did you have the same experience? 

0:41:30.8 S3: Oh, absolutely, and especially because I was still in the legislature. So now it's a little bit easier, but people know me as a legislator, so I think sometimes people will just ask me just different questions because they're expecting that I know or have a response. And when I... They'll say, what's going on with HB4002? One, I can't answer you, but two, I have no clue what the legislature is doing.

0:42:02.9 S2: Exactly. And you shouldn't.

0:42:04.3 S3: I'm just trying to... I'm just trying to get through my cases. Right and I shouldn't. And that's the difference. So it's I think people are starting to understand the message now, but I realize there has to be a lot more education around the role of judges, a lot of people think we are policy makers, and so I've had people say, Can you get my family member out of prison? 

0:42:33.6 S2: No.

0:42:35.4 S3: I can't. No, I can't. They're asking for commutations and like that is the governor's office, and so I feel like it's getting a little bit better, but I'm hoping that through service, in the way that I'm doing it, I can also educate people on why this branch of government is important, but also our limitations, and where they need to go to find the change that they're looking for.

0:43:04.1 S2: I understand that some people's attention was brought to the judicial branch because they were angry about something that the US Supreme Court did, but I'm still thankful that at least they're paying attention more now.

0:43:18.4 S3: Yes. Yes, I am very thankful and it gives me an opportunity to educate more people as to why our courts are so important. I think in Michigan, we dispose off of probably three million cases per year on different levels, but that's a lot of people affected in our society, and so our branch is incredibly important, but we can't get anybody out of jail.

0:43:47.2 S2: No, no, no. You can't fix parking tickets.

0:43:49.4 S3: And we can't fix parking... Yes, yes.

0:43:52.0 S2: I don't know anything about your divorce either.

0:43:53.5 S3: Yeah no. [laughter] Thank you. Louder for the people in the back, we can't fix parking tickets. And we also don't make laws, so people have asked me, What are you doing about criminal justice reform, for example, and you know there are some things we can do, obviously at the Supreme Court level, but as far as like... I think what they're asking for is more so policy, and so then I have an opportunity to educate them.

0:44:23.6 S2: And so... It's interesting, in my class, I'm always thinking, What do I want policy makers to know about the courts. One of my big things, Justice Bolden, is that you always have to think about... You can have a grand idea, but you always have to think about the administration of it, you have to think about who's gonna pay for it, and you might be in an urban county having this great idea, but is this great idea, going to fit in a rural county. So talk a little bit about that.

0:45:01.9 S3: Yeah, I'm sure you have done this too, or it might be a possibility, but we actually... It's hard to say what you would do on the front end of things, just because I know how the sausage is made and how it's not made, and so it's just really hard to say Every legislator, just like every judge has a different philosophy, and some people are really just hyper-concentrated on their district, and honestly, if it affects the rest of the state of Michigan negatively, they're okay with that. I'm not saying whether that's right or wrong, just saying That's their the philosophy, and some are very concerned with the state of Michigan as a whole, and even if it's not so great for my district, this is good for the overall state. I will say that in some of our opinions at the Supreme Court, if there are any policy makers listening, we write love letters, sometimes we just say, This is an area where the legislature should probably take a look.

0:46:06.3 S2: And you know what, Justice Bolden, you know what I would like policy makers to know, is how hard it is to get language like that and in an opinion.

0:46:13.5 S3: Yes.

0:46:15.2 S2: Because other judges will fight you.

0:46:15.4 S3: Yes.

0:46:16.0 S2: Because really, what you're doing is just saying, Here's how you fix it. But you can't be advisory. So sometimes I wish that policy makers would appreciate what it takes to get them those answers.

0:46:30.4 S3: Yes, yes. Or it's just a little know note and saying, this is the conclusion that we came to because of the way the law is written, but it might be slightly a logical.

0:46:46.7 S2: Yeah, because again, we interpret the law, and we don't make the law.

0:46:49.5 S3: We interpret the law and we're bound by that. So I would say, legislators hopefully have someone designated to read our opinions, and even if we don't write a love letter. Exactly, so yes, by the time it gets to the Supreme Court level, you are several levels removed from the conception of whatever that law was that's affecting you. And so you gotta get in on the front end of things.

0:47:25.2 S2: Right, I totally agree. Well, if you don't mind, we will open it up to some, a question and answer period. If anyone has any questions for us. Well, I shouldn't volunteer for Justice Bolden. I'm kidding.


0:47:44.7 Speaker 4: Hello. Thank you guys both for coming today, this was really, really inspiring and really educational. My name is Mave, I'm a junior in the Ford School of Public Policy, and I'm currently taking a comparative law class, and we've talked a lot about civil law, about a bunch of different families of law, but about civil law and common law specifically. And you guys both touched a little bit on the history of your family and how that shaped you both going into law, but also as people, and I guess I'm wondering how does that impact of your own family's history, your own lived experience kind of inform your position on the court and in the courts, because you talked about representation and how important that is, and I guess I'm just thinking about the role of judges, both in common law and civil law, and how like civil law there is so much more removed, and how you think that's really impactful in the system that we have in the US? 

0:48:43.5 S2: I think, for one, honestly, our existence is essential because I know when you go into the courthouse in my county and you look at all the judges pictures, everyone is going to see someone who looks like them, and in my mind, from the time you see those pictures to the time you're going up to the court room, your perception of justice can change after having seen those pictures, knowing that there's somebody in a position of authority that looks like you, that might understand the issues that you face and things like that. So number one, I think our very existence, and you can't be what you don't see it. Right. So I think that that's huge. I also think it is imperative that judges go out and tell people what they see from the bench, because you can go to any court house, anywhere and see what's happening in the community. So for example, when I first took the bench, I first took the bench during the Foreclosure crisis, and I was running around blabbing around town that... Yes, I saw some people that signed some mortgage papers where I was like, I'm not sure how you thought that was gonna work, but I also saw those people that were choosing between medical bills and in their mortgage that both were true.

0:50:23.1 S2: Right now, our courts are still seeing the impact of COVID, and the impact of COVID on courts is everywhere, everywhere from Should I have gotten a ticket for an expired license when the BNBs were shut down, all the way to, I can't fulfill the terms of my divorce, because my business shut down and I can't pay the child support, to I'm a lawyer who was trying to stall and you should have given me a continuance 'cause it was COVID, and that's my convenient excuse. [laughter]

0:51:05.1 S2: So judges who are willing to go out and talk about what they see reflected from the community in the court is essential, because I know for me, you would never think it would take bravery to say this, but it does. It takes bravery for me to say in our current time, that there are both people from whom the public needs protection and people who deserve a second chance, depending on who I'm talking to, that is radical. But you have to have the people who say, I'm on the bench, this is what I'm seeing. Please take my word for it, because it's lived experience.

0:51:49.8 S3: Yeah, I... Even though we aren't interpreting the law, we bring our lived experiences to the table, and that might be in a way that we run our chambers, that might be how we interact with individuals. It's important for me to do these types of events. I probably do two to three events per week even now, because I think it's important for people to see me and to just know a little bit about me. There are other judges and justices that have different philosophies that believe that they should be hidden and not seen, and they should make a decision and then go back and do whatever they wanna do. I have a different philosophy.

0:52:39.3 S3: I think it's very clear that I'm a believer in second chances and things like that, now, does that mean that the law is clear? The laws wanna be the law, but that might cause me to go to be present at a reunification day, because I believe that if you worked really hard and then you should be able to have your children back, so it may not manifest itself in ways that you think it might, but I will also say there are seven justices on my court, we don't always agree.

0:53:22.4 S3: Because we're looking through the lens that we have... I'm sorry about these microphones...

[background conversation]

0:53:34.5 S3: So some of our decisions will be 4-3 or 5-2, and that's partially because someone will say, Well, when I was a Judge, this is how it worked, and sometimes I'm thinking, Well, if we're doing statutory interpretation... I used to be a legislator, and so I know the thought process that goes into making the law right, and so I can sometimes bring that experience to the table, so that's why it's important to have a diverse court with people, that have different lived experiences because it really does make a difference, and I just wanna say also shout out to Pitt Martel, who was one of my first law clerk, so good to see.

[background conversation]

0:54:27.8 Speaker 5: Hi, my name's Arama, I'm in the law school. Thank you so much for this talk. It's been really fascinating. One question that I have is... I'm in my third year, so next semester is my last semester, and I feel like one of the things that has most surprised me about law school is the fact that there is so little focused on state and local issues despite them constituting so much of where people actually interact with the legal system, so I feel like there's a shortcoming in legal education where we're not even really getting exposed to these issues. Can you talk about, for each of you, how you found your way into this particular... You kind of talked about it, but how you found your way into focusing in state and local issues, and then also what you think law schools can do to better prepare students for practicing or for focusing on these kinds of issues when they... So much of the focus is on federal law, but so much stuff is actually happening at the state and local level. Thanks.

0:55:30.4 S2: Can that be an advertisement for Judge Betty Blancs state and local courts class in the public policy school? [laughter]

0:55:37.4 S3: Yes, please, please.

0:55:43.4 S2: As we've discussed... State and local courts are very important. It's easier, especially for a school like Michigan, where your students are just gonna go everywhere, it is easier and probably more efficient to focus on the federal. One thing that if I could be like, Nas, and rule the world, I would change law school a little bit, I would make law school a little bit closer to medical school, because you know how medical... I wouldn't make it four years though, and this isn't totally thought out, so don't hold me to this totally, but you know how medical school, they have two years of classroom instruction and then they have two years of rotating through different areas of medicine. I would make law school closer to that, because even I have a lot of law school closer to that because even, I have a lot of law school classmates that kind of fell into their areas of practice. One of my friends just really couldn't get a summer internship after first year and just accepted a job and ended up loving it. And that's what she's practicing. At the same time, a lot of people who want to be prosecutors or public defenders, law schools don't have a lot to offer them in the way of career services, because it tends to be so a law firm focused, so I would change legal training to make it a little bit broader...

0:57:21.0 S2: I also would change some thinking out there that where you went to law school and how much money you make is directly correlated to how smart you are. Right? 

0:57:37.0 S3: Right.

0:57:39.6 S2: Because now that I've been on the bench, and remember I spent 10 years, I was 10 years law and order, I was... No, I wasn't being a gamble... Well, nobody bangs a gamble, but I had witnesses next to me and I'm dealing with the jury and all of that, and so I have seen... My impression is that sometimes where someone went to law school is really not reflective of how smart they were but just more question of opportunity, and that opportunity can go both ways. So sometimes you don't have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League for whatever reason, and sometimes you do have the opportunity to go for whatever reason, so I would not put as much stake in where you went to law school as a judge of whether or not you're a good lawyer. I also have seen from that trial court experience, they have a reputation as public pretenders instead of public defenders or whatever name you want to call them, and it's a very frustrating experience to see someone give up a good public defender, scrounge up all their money to pay someone who's not as good as the public defender was. So we have to be very careful about legal education, but also the attributes that we put towards people after they get out.

0:59:12.5 S3: And I wholeheartedly agree from what... From speaking to a lot of my former law school colleagues, a lot of people just really fell into their career because that's just where the opportunity was, and so they were looking for a job, and the prosecutor's office called that's them first, or the law firm called them first, and that's kind of where they went. I think law schools can provide a little bit more exposure to different areas, so I knew one person in law school that had clerked for the Michigan Supreme Court, but you know... How do you do that? And I will say a lot of these jobs are not posted. I post. Just by the way, you can go on the Michigan supreme court right now. We post our internships and our clerkships, but I would say, and I'm not an advocate for unpaid labor by any means, but shadow people intern with them because it will save you so much time and money down the line to figure out what you don't want to do, I thought at one point I might want to do family law. Not for me, it's just not for me.

1:00:34.1 S2: Oh, yeah. Whoa.

1:00:35.4 S3: It's just not for me, it's just not for me.

1:00:37.4 S2: Love hate money and children, the recipe for the dynamite. It's everything that people care about.

1:00:43.3 S3: Those are the hardest cases there, or some of the hardest cases we receive at the Supreme Court level, so. But you don't know what you don't know. And so for me, being a judicial clerk in the busiest county in the state of Michigan and the subtle level, I was able to see what I naturally gravitated to and what cases I loved working on and disposing of and talking to my judge about. And so I was able to be a little bit more strategic because I saw a lot of areas of law before I went to a law firm. And so when I did go to my law firm, I did a little bit of everything. I did the defense work, I did insurance defense, I did corporate litigation, I did labor and employment law, and I liked doing all that because I knew what I liked from clerking, and so definitely I think clerking is amazing. I think that might be one of the things that law schools can corporate is just pushing or suggesting or making more opportunities available to clerk so you know what you do and you don't want to do. Again, not an advocate for unpaid labor, but it will save you so much time and money down the road, if you know what you do not want to do.

1:02:07.1 S2: I've also noticed that I'll just say people younger than me, seem to appreciate more learning, not through reading books and articles, they seem to learn to enjoy learning better from the people that are doing it. So you'll see in my class is another tag for me anyway, that you will see a lot of guest speakers because there is no benefit like learning from the people who are doing it, but I will also go back to one of my points that I've made originally, which is that if that is how you like to learn. Again, prepare yourself to be the decision maker, be ready for when it's your turn to change legal education to what you think it should be.

1:03:02.8 S?: So thank you so much for this conversation. This is just so rich on many levels, so at the University of Michigan, we have a non-partisan initiative called UMICH votes that really focuses on encouraging civic participation. And one of things I was struck by is how difficult it is to get information on judicial candidates outside of the Supreme Court. So I remember from my own experience looking up the Supreme Court candidates and there was information available, but the lower courts, you go... In the court system, you go, it's really hard to get any kind of sense of people's credentials or records or stances on things. Why is that? And I know Ohio has been doing something to change that, where you were telling me, judge Beatty Blunt, that there's an initiative underway to... It allows people to do more research. But in Michigan, can you just speak to that? What's the reason for that? What's the remedy for that? Because I'm struck by when we go into the ballot room, how little we know about judges outside of some of the highest positions.

1:04:21.0 S2: Want me to send you the website of what they do in Ohio? 

1:04:24.8 S3: Yes. Actually, yes. It is an issue. And it's hard for me to answer that. The simple answer is, because people don't have to, because people will get elected without having a website, because people will get elected without going to community events, and so there's no motivation for people to do that unless that's demanded of people through how they show support. The other issue is, and maybe the first selection, but judges in Michigan have six-year terms. So, by the time, six years roles around, and you can get an incumbency designation. Now, I'm not saying anything about an incumbency designation, but it does signify who has been there, and so a lot of people may not think to look up information if they haven't heard anything negative. I think the assumption is, Well, they're an incumbent, I haven't heard anything. They must be doing a good job. So then there's no motivation to create a website and do all these things because you know they're doing their job, and there's really no system that, you know, that is a check on that, like there is for some of partisan people.

1:05:56.5 S3: But I would say, I think legal women voters is starting to do more candidate forums for judges, and so you can look up information on their website about participation, and I would say if they do have a website, but not a lot of information, email them, call them, send a message through the website and say, "Hey, can you answer my questions? When's your next community events? Where will you be? I would like to speak with you knowing that they can't answer certain questions, but just say, "Hey, I would like to meet you and see how many people are willing to do that."

1:06:36.8 S2: It's interesting because it seems...

1:06:37.0 S?: Judge Beatty Blunt, can you talk about what they do in Ohio? 

1:06:39.4 S2: It seems like the lack of information is partly because of the retention election system. So, in Michigan, once you become a judge, the question on the ballot is should we keep you? Versus for me, I get a fresh opponent every six years, so it's a little bit different even what you're going to do in between elections, because I don't just get to sit back and say, "I'm the incumbent. Don't you think you should keep me." You know, as you know, I'm out there saying, "Hey, I'm Laurel. Will you help me keep my job?" It's a completely different calculation. So if I'm running for a retention election, yeah, I probably don't... I might not wanna work that hard because I don't have to. So in Ohio, the League of Women Voters partnered with the Bliss Institute, I think is out of the University of Akron, and they have something called judicial votes count. And you could go... It almost functions how a lot of Board of Elections websites function, where you can go and put your address in there and all the judicial candidates that you're voting on pop up side by side, so you can do a comparison between the two.

1:07:58.7 S2: Still though, you still have the judicial canon, so everyone gets on there and says, "I'm fair." Everyone gets on there says, "I'm fishing." So it still can be a little bit difficult, but unfortunately in our very polarized society, there can be buzz words in there that lets you know where someone falls on certain issues.

1:08:23.0 S3: And I will say too, there are a lot of organizations that do endorsements, and so if there is an organization that you visit their website, quite frequently, that makes endorsements. I know a lot of organizations are starting to endorse in judicial races a lot more, so that might give you a little bit of a sense, at least where to go or to find out more information about a particular person, but it is difficult 'cause we are bound by our judicial Canons, and that's how you want your judge, is you want them to be fair and impartial, but I would encourage all judges, if they're up to have a website in a way for people to contact them. And all I can do is just try to lead by example, but it is difficult.

1:09:21.6 S2: I would also say again, because like I said, so many times people don't care about judges until they're in front of one. But here's the thing, it takes a lot of effort to find that information. I get it. But when you think about, I'm picking a person that if I got divorced, would make the decision about how my property would be divided, if you think about, I'm making a decision about who would decide if I'm a victim of a crime, how much restitution I would get the person who's making the decision about my neighbor dispute, the person who's making the decision because I feel my doctor did something wrong, the people who are making the decisions about whether it's constitutional to carry a gun in a certain place or in a certain way. So when you think about it on a decision level, I think it's worth the work to figure out who's gonna be up there.

1:10:22.7 S3: And I will say that getting your absentee ballot is actually... It's not actually, it's very helpful because then you have all the candidates ahead of time and you can do your own research with the ballot, and so... But that's for any candidate, not necessarily judicial, but if you do have any questions, it's harder when you get to the ballot box and you're like, "Wait, who is this person? I've never heard of them." And they have an incumbency designation. You're like, "Well, I haven't heard anything about them. I'll just vote for them." It is a lot easier if you have your absentee ballot and that you can google everybody before you vote.

1:11:02.8 S2: Because I bet that you have probably heard some kind of scary reasons people voted for you. I remember someone telling me, your yard sign was in my neighbor's yard and they always keep their grass cut, so I voted for you. Or my second grade teacher's name was Laurel, and I really liked her, so I voted for you.

1:11:26.5 S3: Yeah, no, I can't think of... I would say for us, because I'm not sure if you have straight ticket voting in Ohio, but we have it in Michigan. And so for me, obviously we're in the non-partisan category, but you can vote straight ticket, so you're voting for all of the people in a particular political party. Yeah.

1:11:51.2 S2: It's like pressure, pick all.

1:11:54.5 S3: You just circle one, you just circle one and it just votes for everybody in the partisan section under that party. Right.

1:12:02.7 S2: Oh. Okay.

1:12:05.8 S3: But a lot of people didn't realize, and especially because I had come from a political world, that you have to vote separately in the non-partisan section, and you actually have to bubble in the names in the partisans, non-partisan section. And so people would come to me and say, "I voted straight ticket, I got you."

1:12:27.4 S2: And you're like, "No, you don't."

1:12:29.1 S3: No.

1:12:30.0 S2: Look, actually, you left me hanging.

1:12:31.8 S3: You left me hanging. You left me hanging. So that was kinda one of the biggest things that I'm just like...

1:12:40.5 S2: Wow.

1:12:40.8 S3: We need more education.

1:12:43.7 S2: See, and it's a little bit different in Ohio, now. We used to have straight non-partisan judicial elections, but now Ohio Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals only have party affiliation on the ballot. Trial courts do not.

1:13:00.7 S3: Interesting.

1:13:03.0 S2: And it's interesting too, because the way that the districts are set up, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, those districts are just those one counties, and so you had a lot of judges that had no idea what was gonna happen with their election because of how their district fell between Republicans and Democrats, so they didn't know what was gonna happen. Especially the first time we had the party affiliation on the ballots.

1:13:31.5 S3: Wow.

1:13:31.9 S2: So we have party affiliation and we also... You can't serve as a judge after 70.

1:13:37.7 S3: Yes, so we do have the age restriction after 70, and at the supreme court, here it's weird, we don't have party affiliations, but you have to be nominated by a political party unless you're an incumbent. I know. I know.

1:13:58.1 S2: So this is why if I'm an incumbent, I'm like...

1:14:01.6 S3: So that's why there's more information...

1:14:02.9 S2: More information day.

1:14:04.6 S3: Yeah, that's why there's more information about the Supreme Court because you're nominated by a political party, so there's a different system in there then, but that doesn't apply for our court of appeals or lower courts, but you still... But you're non-partisan and there's no party affiliation on your ballot.

1:14:29.5 S2: Oh. Okay, yeah, it's much more complicated in Ohio.

1:14:31.8 S3: Who knew that? Did anybody know that? Okay. Oh, yes in the back. So that's how it works. Yes.

1:14:38.1 S2: One other question.

1:14:39.7 Speaker 6: Hi, I'm Shane, I'm a freshman, and I'm a reporter with the Michigan Daily. So we've heard Supreme Court Justice John Roberts say that judges are like umpires, they just call balls and strikes. So what are your thoughts on his view and how it relates to important sweeping cases that are coming up into the state court, specifically relating to reproductive rights and election laws? 

1:15:03.6 S2: I think he was right, that's how our government is set up, and that's part of the transition in to getting on the bench is because you've gone from player to referee, you've gone from advocate to judge, at the end of the day, we do not make laws, we interpret them. And so we have to stay in our lane. Essentially, I think that they're... On justice Bolden's level, it's a little bit different because where I served that trial court, you're the judge who's taking into facts and dealing with the jury and things like that, so on that first level though, a lot of the facts are set, so then you move to the second area, Court of Appeals, where I am now, that court is a court of error, what we're doing is just to make sure that our colleagues on the first level didn't mess something up, now, where things can get changed is on the Supreme Court.

1:16:15.0 S2: And so, even then though, you're still...

1:16:21.7 S3: You're still... Yeah.

1:16:21.7 S2: Not making... You might be interpreting what a word means, but you're not the one putting the word in there.

1:16:28.7 S3: Right.

1:16:30.7 S2: And that makes all the difference.

1:16:32.4 S3: And I will say to, yes, we are umpires, but I shouldn't say but... And I know that everyone has watched a game and a referee has made a call, and everybody stands are like, "What? I can't believe that. That's not how I saw things." And so, yes, we are umpires and we call balls and strikes, that doesn't mean that someone else won't see it differently, and that's why you have decisions that are not uniform on my level or on the United States Supreme Court level. So we call it like we see it. And that might be different from each other.

1:17:19.6 S2: And it's why we sit in groups on the appellate level. I think another thing that's so important to remember is that judges don't fix things. Judges resolve disputes, and there's a difference, because in the murder criminal case, you can't fix it because you can't bring somebody back, in a medical malpractice case of somebody or a car accident case or something, somebody gets really seriously injured, you can't fix it. All you can do is resolve the dispute, and you have to keep that difference in mind because it helps you stay in your judicial branch of government Lane. The question right here.

1:18:21.4 S6: Hello. Thank you guys so much for this presentation. It's been amazing. My name's Audrey Thedford, I'm a senior at the Ross School of Business, and I'm also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Beta ADA chapter. So, hello, Soror. But I... First of all, I just wanna say it's been so inspiring to see both of you. I know you said, you can't be what you can't see, and I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. So, it honestly makes me really emotional, and I just wanna thank you guys again for just being here and doing what you do. But I wanted to talk about how you guys talked about your personal philosophies, and how sometimes people interpret what you do as radical. And I know here at the University of Michigan, we're around a lot of smart college students with very different perspectives, that it can kind of make you really rethink your own and what is right, and on top of imposter syndrome, it can just be kind of hard to have confidence in your own philosophy. So, I'm curious how you guys have gotten confidence in defending and pushing your own philosophies in your positions, and if you have any advice for us on how to do that in our personal life, and when we become leaders further on.

1:19:34.0 S3: Could you take that one course? 

1:19:36.4 S2: First of all, I will point out to you that you are seeing 49-year old Laurel. You're not seeing 19-year old Laurel. You know what I'm sa... You can't, don't compare yourself to us, first of all. You see what I mean? Because all of the experiences that we've talked about tonight is what made us who we are. And getting through certain experiences, when I was appointed Judge, three days of negative press, but I got through it and, you know, having that experience of I didn't know if somebody was coming at me with racism, ageism, sexism, I mean...

1:20:23.1 S3: Couldn't have been any of them.

1:20:23.8 S2: Any of them or any combination. And that's when I discovered you put your head down and do the work. And that's because otherwise you're just gonna spend a whole lot of time trying to convince people that you could do this job. But I had that experience and now I'm here telling you, and you might have that experience and you might say, "Yeah, that lady named Laurel said that she went through this too. But she sat there and told me about it. So it's possible to get through it." I have also, again, being 49-year old Laurel, I see how different experiences things are getting, things are changing. I was the first person to, in my court to have a baby while serving. And it was difficult, but I saw already the the next woman who got pregnant while she was serving had a less difficult time than I did. So I've lived 49 years, and so I have the opportunity to look back and see how some of those sticky situations worked out for the best.

1:21:40.7 S2: I would say one of the greatest ways that I have learned about myself and overcome imposter syndrome is watching who I am around. Sometimes even watching the TV I watch and the music I listen to, but I can say like, honestly, Dean Watkins Hayes, I knew her at Spelman. And so having a group of friends through all these years, through her getting her PhD, me being in law school, another friend going to medical school, our fourth friend went to business school. We all pushed each other. We all in the midnight hour we're there to say, "You're not as bad as you think you are." [laughter] So for me, that has really been helpful as well as not accepting shade from trees that don't bear fruit.


1:22:52.2 S3: I'm taking that one, taking that one.

1:22:55.8 S2: I think I read that on Facebook one time, but...

1:23:00.3 S3: I'll attribute that to you.

1:23:01.8 S2: But it's so true. It's so true. Because if you think about it, no matter if it's external or internal, a lot of times the voice that's telling you, No, you can't. Or whatever is a tree that doesn't bear fruit. You know what I mean? The best part of me is very positive, the best part of me encourages myself. The best part of me also knows what I'm not good at, and so I think that has helped me. And I would also, again, emphasize to you, just look at us and just be like, Girl goals or whatever that hashtag is lately. Because again, we probably had the same fears and doubts or whatever when we were your age to...

1:24:00.4 S3: I would give a couple of nuggets. A lot of people ask me, Do I have impostor syndrome? No, I don't. 'Cause I don't. Not at this point, I can't say that I never did it. I did at one point. But at this point, I do not, because I know how hard I worked, I know what it took to get here. And so one thing I have always told myself, even when I doubted myself was you might have a different skill set than me, but no one's gonna work harder than me, nobody. And I wholeheartedly believe that in myself, and that doesn't mean I win every single time, but once I'm done, I will say. " No one worked harder than me." And that's just my self-motivation.

1:24:41.2 S2: But Justice Bolden, think about it. You lost so well that you got the appointment.

1:24:45.5 S3: I got appointed.

1:24:46.4 S2: You know.

1:24:47.6 S3: Yeah. Right. Right. And I think we can all agree if I did not do well, I would not have been appointed.

1:24:55.5 S2: Exactly.

1:24:56.2 S3: But I will also say critics really make the history books too, when someone tells you, you can't do something, they're looking from their lens of inability, not yours, because only you know what you're capable of doing, because you have something inside of you telling you that you should be doing X, Y, and Z. And you've gotten to the place that you've gotten to because of you, your work ethic, your family support system, all of these things, and so someone that would not dare do what you have done or trying to do, telling you what you can't do cannot infiltrate you to the point where you doubt yourself, you just... It just can't. And that's kind of the point that I got to when I'm running for Michigan supreme court, and someone's telling me I'm unqualified. I'm doing something that you wouldn't dare to do, that many people who may be qualified are not daring to do, so I can't accept that criticism because I'm the one that's out here trying.

1:26:13.0 S3: The third thing is you... I forgot. What's my third thing? It was good too.

1:26:20.0 S2: I got one though. While you think of it.

1:26:22.0 S3: Okay. Yes.

1:26:23.7 S2: I'll tell you, and I'll give credit to my friend Elizabeth Blount McCormick, who when she was asked about Impostor Syndrome... You know what she says to herself? 'Cause imposter syndrome, you're saying, why me? Right. She says, why not me? 

1:26:37.8 S3: Why not? 

1:26:38.0 S2: Why not me? And when you turn your mindset like that even asking the question, it emboldens you. You know.

1:26:54.2 S3: I don't remember what I was gonna say, but that was a good point.

1:26:55.3 S2: And it was gonna be good too. It was gonna be good.

1:26:57.0 S3: Yeah. I think...

1:26:57.8 S2: Oh, and Elizabeth is your Soro too.

1:27:02.1 S3: We love the pink and green.


1:27:02.2 S3: But yeah. No, I... Oh, and you also have to determine whether the critique is coming from a place of love or coming from a place of trying to stunt your growth. That is really hard to discern. But it will always be revealed. And so when certain people tell me certain things and it's a critique and saying, "Kyra, you really need to need to step it up here. You need to do better." I know they're saying get out of love. After I won my second election and my primary, I went with 90% of the vote. My mom said, "We need to find those 10%."


1:27:47.2 S3: We have to find those 10%. I said, "Mom, I don't think we can do that."

1:27:52.4 S2: Yeah. Mom, that's called a SmackDown.

1:27:54.3 S3: But I knew it was coming from a place of love that it wasn't that you weren't... That she wasn't saying I wasn't good enough, obviously, but you could have done better, but in a place of love. And then there are people that just told me I shouldn't run for state representative because I was too young. Start at school board. You're not qualified to run for state representative. You've never served in public office. You don't have the credentials, you don't... Whatever. Whatever.

1:28:28.5 S2: And see that is a baby boomer way.

1:28:30.5 S3: Yeah.

1:28:31.1 S2: You know what I mean? To wait in line. Wait your turn.

1:28:32.9 S3: Wait your turn. Oh my goodness. If I had a dollar. Wait your turn. But I had to realize that those people that said that to me didn't know me. So you couldn't tell me if I was qualified or not. You don't know me. You don't know what I'm capable of. And I don't have to wait my turn.

1:28:55.6 S2: So unfortunately we got the signal. Don't wait your turn. I'm gonna leave it at that. 'Cause I wanna end it on that. 'Cause I really appreciate that line and I so so so appreciate you coming here and had such a lovely time talking with you.

1:29:11.8 S?: Yes.

1:29:12.7 S3: Thank you so much.

1:29:13.6 S2: Thanks everyone for coming.