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Teachers unions ask Supreme Court justice to disqualify herself from teacher pay case

2nd grade teacher Kim Fox integrates fun into her class lessons at North Godwin Elementary in Wyoming, Michigan.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
2nd grade teacher Kim Fox integrates fun into her class lessons at North Godwin Elementary in Wyoming, Michigan.

A newly appointed state Supreme Court justice is being formally asked to disqualify herself from a case about the state taking money from teachers’ paychecks to pay for retirees' healthcare.

From 2010-12, 3% was taken out of school employees' salaries to pay for retiree health benefits. In total, $550 million was taken out during that time period, which affected roughly 280,000 school employees. Whether the state has to pay teachers back depends on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case.

Governor Snyder appointed Justice Beth Clement to the state Supreme Court in November, just after the court had already heard oral arguments in the case. But Clement used to work as legal counsel for the Governor. Now teachers unions, who are plaintiffs in the case before the state Supreme Court, want Clement to disqualify herself from weighing-in on the court’s decision.

The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan (AFT), along with other teachers unions, filed a motion this week asking Clement to disqualify herself based on the likelihood that she advised Snyder about the case in question as it was making its way through the courts – Before Clement was on the bench.

“We don’t know what that advice was, but that makes it inappropriate for her to consider or rule on the case,” said Mark Cousens, general counsel for AFT Michigan.  

“We believe that it is extremely likely – indeed it would have been strange if it had not happened – that now-Justice Clement was consulted by the governor because she was at the time his chief legal counsel,” Cousens said.

According to Cousens, it’s entirely up to Clement whether to disqualify herself from ruling on the case. Though he says if Clement denies the motion, it’s possible to bring the motion to disqualify up before the entire court. Then the court would have to reconsider the motion and issue a decision.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Supreme Court said the court had no comment on the motion. A spokesperson for Governor Snyder’s office deferred comments to the Supreme Court.

Teachers have a lot of complaints about the money they’ve lost. Whether they get that money back depends on the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is expected to come sometime in the next several months.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.