New Low in Michigan Attack Ad
February 20th, 2013
The Michigan Supreme Court Justice races, already poisoned by the excessive partisanship of the Court, have now reached a new low in campaign ads. A story from the Associated Press describes an advertisement created by the Michigan Democratic party against Judge Mary Beth Kelly, a Republican who is running for a seat on the Supreme Court, The advertisement tells the story of Ihab Maslamani, an 18-year old who went on a three-day crime spree that included numerous robberies and a murder. He had been in and out of the foster care system for his entire childhood, and had a significant criminal record, including drug charges, care theft, and escape from custody. After telling this story, the advertisement notes:
“One judge oversaw it all; one judge did not put him in jail or have him deported. Judge Mary Beth Kelly just let him through the revolving door, despite the warning signs. She says she feels really bad.”
On the screen is a picture of Judge Kelly with “I feel really badly…” in quotes—allegedly a statement she made to the Detroit Free Press about the case.
Even given the depressingly low standards of judicial advertising, this ad is deplorable. It is designed to tap into all the modern ugly prejudices that voters may have: the criminal involved was an illegal immigrant and has a Muslim-sounding name. In this way the ad mirrors the infamous “Willie Horton” advertisement that was run against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Presidential campaign—an advertisement that has been widely criticized as having racist undertones.
But the Maslamani ad is even worse than the Willie Horton ad, for two reasons. First, it implies that Judge Kelly could have put Maslamani in prison or had him deported before he committed his terrible crimes. Of course, the idea that a state juvenile court judge has the power to deport anyone is absurd, since only federal immigration authorities have that ability. And Judge Kelly has said that she had no option of putting Maslamani in prison for his earlier offenses, which is quite likely given the laws regarding juvenile offenders. Second, the ad takes Judge Kelly’s quote out of context: she told the Free Press that she felt “really badly” that the system did not allow her to put Maslamani in jail for his prior offenses—but the advertisement cuts out the end of her sentence to make it sound like she felt badly that she chose not to put him in jail. In other words, even though Judge Kelly was actually criticizing the juvenile justice system, the advertisement implies she was criticizing her own bad judgment—judgment which (allegedly) resulted in Maslamani remaining free to commit his horrible crimes.
The Republicans are employing their own scare tactics in this campaign, releasing ads which state that Democratic candidate Denise Langford Morris has “a history of releasing dangerous criminals.” Although this rather meaningless claim can’t quite compare to the level of misinformation and bigotry of the Maslamani ad, it is still inappropriate to make such broad and sensationalist generalizations about a judge’s record. Of course, what either of these commercials have to do with the question of which candidates are most qualified to sit on the Michigan Supreme Court remains an impenetrable mystery.