Michigan Supreme Court justice visits Marquette

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Bernstein visits the Marquette area on the last leg of his Upper Peninsula trip Tuesday. Bernstein is the first blind Michigan Supreme Court justice and likes to advocate for equal representation and resources for the U.P. (Journal photo by Randy Crouch)

MARQUETTE — Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Bernstein visited Marquette Tuesday on the last leg of his most recent trip to the Upper Peninsula.

Bernstein is a self-proclaimed lover of the U.P. This trip marks his first return to the area since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.

One of the things Bernstein talked about was making sure that the U.P. and the needs of its residents don’t get overlooked by downstate’s more populous counties.

“In counties like Delta, counties like Marquette, basically all the different counties up here, you have to be careful on how you allocate resources for judicial slots. A lot of times the judges in these counties are working a lot harder than judges in Lower Michigan because they just have so much. Huge caseloads,” Bernstein said. “Because it’s the Upper Peninsula, what can sometimes happens in these situations is that they can get overlooked. That’s why I get very passionate about it. I’m a very big U.P. advocate because as a disabled person, you understand what it’s like to not have a voice at the table. It’s absolutely critical that people spend more time up here and pay a lot more attention to the U.P.”

Bernstein also likes to take advantage of outdoor recreation in the U.P. A passionate runner, Bernstein enjoys the hiking and running trails in the area. To date, Bernstein has competed in at least 18 marathons and completed an Ironman triathlon.

The first blind Michigan Supreme Court justice, Bernstein has served on the state’s highest court since being elected to the bench in 2014. Bernstein feels that his lifelong blindness has given him a special advantage to doing his job.

“What makes a really good judge is your life experience. The more experiences you have, the better judge you’re going to be,” Bernstein said. “One other quality is absolutely essential to being a good judge and that is, for all intents and purposes, the ability to live, appreciate and work with struggle. The best judges are the ones who really understand what it means to live with struggle.”

Bernstein doesn’t handle business like a typical justice would. Due to his blindness, Bernstein has to memorize the facts of each individual case he hears, as well as all of the other relevant cases on both sides of each issue.

“When you’re making decisions that affect people’s entire lives, that affects how they live, how they were, their freedom,” Bernstein said. “I think at the end of the day, what people in Michigan said and continue to say, is that they value someone who hasn’t had it so easy, has to work a lot harder, has to face some real difficulties in what they contend with on a daily basis.

“Being blind gives you a totally different perspective, but I think it allows for you to do this job better. Prejudice is always created by vision, prejudice is created by how somebody appears or how somebody looks. When you’re blind, you don’t know what they look like. The symbol of the entire judicial system is a lady with a blindfold.”

Bernstein is up for re-election to the Michigan Supreme Court in November.


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