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Meet Michigan Supreme Court candidate Elizabeth Welch

headshot of woman with shoulder-length hair
Elizabeth Welch is an attorney in West Michigan and the former president of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Voters will elect two justices. There are seven candidates on the ballot.

Michigan voters will elect two justices to the state Supreme Court in November. Elizabeth Welch is one of the seven candidates.

Candidate: Elizabeth Welch

Current Position: Employment law attorney in private practice

Nominated by: Democratic Party*

*All judicial candidates in Michigan are listed as nonpartisan on the ballot.

See all of Michigan Radio's state Supreme Court candidate interviews

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many employment concerns for both employees and employers. They range from adding additional time-off options for illness to providing time for childcare for workers who have kids attending virtual school from home. 

In an interview with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition, Elizabeth Welch said the issues related to COVID-19 now make up the bulk of her workload.

"We now have courts trying to interpret the decisions and that's impacting our clients even if the court's not in Michigan." - Elizabeth Welch on the surge of employment law issues surrounding COVID-19

"My small business clients are having to obviously have COVID-19 plans in place," Welch said. "These new [leave] laws were getting rolled out almost overnight and implemented immediately. We now have courts trying to interpret the decisions and that's impacting our clients even if the court's not in Michigan. I also have helped numerous employees navigate the new system, figuring out what kind of leave are they entitled to under the new laws."

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The legal side of education

Welch is a former trustee of the East Grand Rapids School Board and believes Michigan has a number of key legal issues tied to education.

"Boy, there's a lot. School finance, how we fund education in Michigan. That is just a big ongoing discussion. We have this K-12 pot of money. There is talk about looking at equitable funding for kids, or what the need is, as opposed to equal funding per child," she said. 

"We also have the issue of how public school dollars are used. Are those dollars that private schools should have access to? That's an issue that's working its way through the courts now."

Diversity or a lack of it 

All of the seven current state Supreme Court justices are white. Welch is one of six white candidates on the ballot. Welch said the court's makeup is something she thought about when deciding whether to run.

"I firmly believe we need a court that is diverse in its makeup and is reflective of our population. I think [the lack of diversity is] a little bit of a statement on the barriers for running for this race. They're quite large," she said. "You have to have the ability to basically work part-time, devote a year of your life to a statewide campaign. Obviously, there's the fundraising component."

Welch told Michigan Radio she has helped other people run for office in various local and county government positions and plans to continue to do that. 

The debate over executive power

As the back-and-forth over Governor Gretchen Whitmer's authority to issue orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Welch said Michigan is far from alone in having those disputes.

"This is a debate that's going on nationwide. It's reflective of the divide in our communities over the proper response when there is a public health crisis. There are huge important issues. We have language and laws that give executives certain degrees of power for emergencies," she said. "So, the debate is, is the response appropriate and appropriately defined under the current law?"

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of this page. 

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Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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