May 18, 2009

Is Granholm Headed to High Court Despite Scandals?

CFJ has learned from a reliable source that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, reportedly on President Obama’s Supreme Court short list, boarded a flight from Detroit to Washington, DC last night. If Granholm is coming to DC for an announcement of her nomination to the Court, we’ll know as soon as this morning. If she’s coming to DC to interview for the job, it serves as confirmation that she is on the short list. In either case, it’s worth taking a look at her record, including the scandals that have plagued her.

Since being elected governor in 2002, Granholm has most often been criticized for presiding over a state economy that has been one of the worst in the nation for several years, long before the collapse of the national economy and auto industry. Her solution, the biggest tax hike in a generation, has also come under fire. In 2007, Granholm pressured the legislature to approve the hike by shutting down the state government. Nonetheless, it unclear whether Granholm’s economic mismanagement would be a major issue in a confirmation hearing.

More likely to be issues are her support of gay marriage and her veto of state legislation banning partial-birth abortion. The language of the bill she vetoed mirrored the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Granholm has never been a judge. Although some doubts about her suitability for the High Court are raised by her lack of scholarly legal writing, that may actually work in her favor by giving critics less material with which to evaluate her judicial reasoning.

In all likelihood, the biggest obstacles to Granholm’s confirmation will be her tax problems and other scandals. Last year, WILX, the NBC affiliate in Michigan’s capital, reported that the IRS “has placed a federal tax lien on [Granholm’s 2002 inaugural] committee to the tune of $19,535 in unpaid taxes that date back to 2003.” The Detroit Free Press (3/7/08) confirmed the report and also mentioned an “$800 lien placed against the Wayne County home of Granholm and her husband in 2006 for failing to file unemployment insurance reports on their nanny.” Given the tax problems that have plagued several Obama nominees – including Timothy Geithner, Kathleen Sebelius, and Tom Daschle – and the nanny problems that derailed Cabinet nominees in past administrations, taxes would seem to be Granholm’s number one problem.

Close behind on the trouble meter are scandals involving Granholm’s tenure as Corporation Counsel for Wayne County, Michigan. In 2002, Granholm came under fire after firms owned by her husband, Daniel Mulhern, secured contracts from Wayne County shortly after Granholm’s tenure as county counsel ended. “Five of the agreements were no-bid contracts and the sixth was awarded through a process in which Mulhern's firm submitted the highest bid but won the contract anyway,” reports the Macom Daily. The other bids ranged in price from half to less than a quarter of Mulhern’s bid. The Daily reports that the 4-member team scoring the bids included Granholm's campaign manager and another Granholm campaign contributor.

In a related charge, Granholm came under criticism for failing to use her authority as corporation counsel to investigate an “apparent pattern of cronyism and no-bid contracts [in Wayne County that] prompted scrutiny from the FBI and state and county auditors.” (Detroit Free Press 1/29/02)

It’s too early to tell, but Congressman John Conyers’s (D – Mich.) withdrawal of his support for Granholm’s nomination to the Supreme Court – at a White House meeting this past Friday – might also be a sign of trouble, if not another scandal. Conyers cited “a letter [written by Granholm] telling us some U.S. attorney has done a good job when everyone in the state knows that he hasn’t.” The details aren’t clear.