Everyone knows we have a President (and most people know they’re elected every four years) but Americans vote for so many other federal officials!
If we want to have a say about who runs the country, we need to vote for who represents our State in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Michigan gets to choose two people to send to the Senate at Washington DC to make choices on the behalf of our state, and our state gets to choose 14 people to represent us in the House of Representatives. The whole state of Michigan decides who our senators will be, but each of the state’s 14 Congressional Districts chooses their own Representative for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Every two years 1/3 of the 100 United States Senate seats are up for reelection (that’s 33 to 34 people that voters can either keep or replace). Senators keep their job for a 6-year term. That means in 2018 the Michigan U.S. Senate Seat currently held by Senator Debbie Stabenow will be up for election, and in 2020 the seat held by Senator Gary Peters will also be up for election. Voters can choose to keep these two in office (they are considered “incumbent” because they already have the position), or we can vote for new people to take their place.
Every two years all 435 U.S. House of Representative seats are up for election. U.S. Representative keep their job for a 2 year term. Every two years Michigan gets to choose their 14 representatives all over again. Unlike senate elections, the whole state doesn’t decide together who the 14 people will be. Instead, citizens are split into 14 groups of people (with about 710,000 people per group). These 14 groups of people are called “Congressional Districts”.
The Michigan State Government is divided into the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.
The Executive Branch includes the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General.
The Legislative Branch includes senators and representatives of the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives.
The Judicial Branch includes the Supreme Court of Michigan, The Court of Appeals, and various trial courts.
Michigan Citizens get to decide who fills each and every one of the top positions within each of these various branches of government.
There are multiple levels to the judicial system in the United States. The first division between them is that some are “Federal Courts” and some are “State and Territorial Courts.” The Federal Courts deal with, well, federal laws. They have the authority of the federal government. No federal judges are elected by the people. The State and Territorial courts deal with state and US territory laws, and have the authority of these states and territories. In Michigan, most of these judges are elected.
Michigan State Courts
The State of Michigan divides its courts into miscellaneous limited-jurisdiction trial courts, trial courts called Circuit Courts, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court. Because the federal and state levels both use the term “circuit courts”, it’s important to specify whether you mean “Federal circuit court” or “State circuit court”.
State Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, in other words, they do not run as “Republican” or “Democrat”. However, this does not mean that they do not have partisan beliefs or ways of deciding the law that are ideologically similar to one of the political parties. The word “nonpartisan” can, in this way, be misleading. And in the case of State Supreme Court judges, political parties can nominate them at political party conventions or through a nominating petition.
District Courts deal with traffic violations, misdemeanors, landlord-tenant conflicts, and all civil cases with claims up to but under $25,000.
There are 100 of these district courts, and district court judges are elected for 6 year terms.
Circuit Courts deal with felonies, civil cases with claims over $25,000, and family law.
It includes a family division that deals with juvenile criminal cases, divorce, paternity, guardianship, adoption, safe newborn delivery, minor-emancipation, child abuse, personal protection actions (PPOs and enforcement), name changes, and “friend of the court” (the office that handles “domestic relations” in cases involving minor children).
The court also hears case appeals from the other trial courts (like the district courts) or administrative agencies.
In Michigan there are 57 Circuit Courts, 221 judges, and each judge is elected to serve a 6 year term.
Probate Courts deal with wills, administers estates and trusts, appoints guardians and conservators, and orders psychological treatment.
There are 78 of these courts and their judges are elected to 6 year terms.
Since there are so many judges in all of these courts, nearly every election on an even year will include the election of a Circuit Court, District Court or Probate Court Justice in your area. If you’d like to know what your district court or circuit court district is, check out the maps below.
The “Court of Appeals” deals with appeals cases. Any final order from a circuit court, or from some probate courts and orders from agencies.
Court of Appeals hearings are held in the capital, Lansing, as well as in Detroit and Grand Rapids, all year (and in the spring and fall, they are also heard in Marquette and in a location somewhere in the Northern Lower Peninsula).
A panel of three judges decide Court of Appeals cases. The panels are rotated between cases, so the three judges don’t always decide a case together. Two of these judges must agree on a ruling.
Only the Michigan Supreme Court can overrule a Court of Appeals decision (or a special Court of Appeals panel).
The Michigan Court of Appeals is also home to the Michigan Court of Claims. This is the court where claims for money damages of over $1,000 against the State of Michigan are heard. Four Court of Appeals judges are assigned to the Court of Claims and each Court of Claims case is heard by a single judge.
Before 2012, there were supposed to be 28 judges on the Court of Appeals. After 2012, it was decided that there should be 24 judges. The 4 judges already on the court were meant to be lost by “attrition”. This means that when the person holding that seat’s position are done with their 6 year term, they can choose to stand for re-election, or they can retire and their position will no longer exist (until 4 judges retire).