- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan law professor with conservative credentials was appointed Wednesday to the Michigan Supreme Court, filling an opening caused by the early departure of Justice Mary Beth Kelly.

Joan Larsen, special counsel to the law school’s dean, is Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s third appointment to the court. Through elections and appointments, GOP nominees have a 5-2 majority.

“I am really excited, honored and humbled to be able to serve,” Larsen, 47, told reporters. She said she believes in “enforcing the text (of laws) as written. I don’t think judges are a policy-making branch of government.”

In a surprise announcement in August, Kelly said she would leave the bench for private practice with more than three years left in her first term.

Larsen, who starts Thursday, will face election in 2016 to finish the remainder of Kelly’s term and can run again in 2018 if she wants to pursue a full eight-year term.

“We went and found her. Her name and background surfaced very quickly,” said Snyder, citing Larsen’s experience in “some of the highest positions anyone could hope to have in their legal career.”

She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and Northwestern University’s law school. Larsen was a law clerk for a federal appeals judge in Washington, D.C., and for Antonin Scalia, a leading conservative on the U.S. Supreme Court. She called both “great role models.”

She later worked at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the administration of President George W. Bush, prompting questions from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.

The groups said Larsen co-wrote a secret 2002 memo regarding detainees’ right to habeas corpus - the legal principle, enshrined in the Constitution, which allows courts to determine whether a prisoner is being held illegally. The ACLU called for “full disclosure” about Larsen’s role in crafting post-Sept. 11 legal policies related to torture, warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention.

Asked Thursday if she gave legal advice regarding interrogation techniques, Larsen said she had no role.

“There were only certain people who were read in on those (classified) things, and I wasn’t one of them,” she said.

Snyder spokesman Sara Wurfel said Larsen’s memos and communications from her time at the Justice Department “remain privileged unless or until the client waives that privilege,” and it would be an ethical violation for Larsen to comment further without client authorization.

Larsen’s research and teaching interests include constitutional law, international law, the judicial system and separation of powers. She has spoken at events held by the conservative Federalist Society legal group but said she was not sure if she is a member.

Larsen will be the third justice with no prior experience as a judge. The others are Bridget Mary McCormack and Richard Bernstein, a fellow Northwestern law graduate. McCormack was also a law professor at the University of Michigan before winning election to the court as a Democratic nominee in 2012. Snyder himself graduated from the same law school.

“She told me tremendous things,” Larsen said of McCormack. “She was probably the biggest cheerleader for why I should want to do this job.”

Larsen lives in Scio Township near Ann Arbor with her husband, Adam Pritchard, who also is a University of Michigan law professor, their 15-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said Larsen is a “perfect fit” for the court, calling her a “nationally recognized legal scholar” and “keen legal thinker.”


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