On November 22, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Michigan state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden to the Michigan Supreme Court. Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with the incoming justice to discuss her career and her plans for her new role.
AALM: What first drew you to a career in the law? What did you enjoy most about your time as a practicing attorney? What compelled you to run for the State House?
KHB: I went to Grand Valley State University, with the intention of obtaining my psychology degree and working in that field. While I did obtain my psychology degree, I realized that I wanted to practice law after speaking with my grandmother about the history of injustice within our own family. In 1939, my great-grandfather, Jesse Lee Bond, was lynched in Tennessee. He asked a store clerk for a receipt and a lynch mob ensued, castrating him, and throwing him into a river. This injustice, my family’s injustice, made me realize that I wanted to help others seek justice through the law.
What I most enjoyed during my time practicing was the discovery phase. I really enjoyed uncovering new information, relevant to the particular case, and integrating that information into case strategy.
When I was practicing in civil litigation, I would sometimes look at laws relevant to my cases and think to myself, “who is writing these laws?” I ran for the State House to learn for myself how laws are made, and to fix some of the flaws I had noticed while practicing. I wanted to have an impact on the laws of our state. Now, I am excited to be a justice and see the law from a whole new point-of-view.
AALM: What are you most looking forward to in your new position on the Michigan Supreme Court?
KHB: I am most looking forward to the ability to see the law through a new lens and working with my colleagues on the bench. The decisions made by the Michigan Supreme Court will have great impact today and lasting impact for generations.
AALM: What was your reaction when Gov. Whitmer appointed you to the position following the election?
KHB: I was incredibly honored that Governor Whitmer appointed me to this role. I appreciate her leadership, and I am grateful that she entrusted me with this important seat on the Michigan Supreme Court.
AALM: After serving in the Michigan State House, what do you think will be the greatest adjustment for you in this new role? How do you think your experience in the legislature will color your outlook as a justice?
KHB: The adjustment will be becoming familiar with the day-to-day working of the Court. As a legislator, I was able to see how laws are crafted, which I believe is a very important and unique perspective that I will bring to interpreting laws as a Justice.
AALM: Can you tell us which judges or justices you most admire? What traits of theirs do you hope to emulate?
KHB: The former Chief Justice, Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, did phenomenal work during her time on the court, including leading the Michigan Supreme Court in a thoughtful, reasoned manner and continued to broaden access and inclusion to our justice system. I will always look up to her example and I am honored to be filling her vacancy. I am also honored to join leaders including Judges Shelia Johnson, Debra Nance, Deborah Thomas, Cynthia Stephens, and Denise Langford Morris, who paved the way for me to be the first Black woman on the Michigan Supreme Court. In addition, I clerked under Judge John A. Murphy, and his lessons in looking at cases methodically and without bias are lessons I will carry with me onto the court.
AALM: Tell us about your work as a law clerk for Judge John A. Murphy. What are some of the most important lessons you learned from your time clerking with him?
KHB: I learned a lot from Judge John A. Murphy. He is the longest-serving judge, currently sitting, in Michigan. His insight was incredibly beneficial to me early on in my law career. He really emphasized listening and taking in all information provided but also performing extensive research. This experience has prepared me for the court and will ensure I take in all information and evidence possible to make a well-reasoned decision, every time.
AALM: Of the work you accomplished in the State House, what are you most proud of achieving?
KHB: I am proud to have passed five bipartisan bills. These bills focused on issues such as criminal justice reform and protecting survivors of sexual violence, and I am proud of the impact I made in my role as a legislator.
AALM: What are some issues facing the judicial system in Michigan that you believe need to be addressed?
KHB: Society must be able to have faith in the justice system and increase access to justice. Ultimately, I want everyone that comes before the court to feel seen and heard. I know what it is like to have injustice in my family, and to see how that echoes down throughout the generations. I want others to know justice.
AALM: What are some issues you anticipate coming before the Court in the coming years?
KHB: The most pressing and important issues facing Michiganders will most likely make their way to the Court. We are seeing more and more critical issues being decided by state supreme courts across the country.
AALM: What compelled you to stay in your hometown of Southfield? How are you involved in the local community?
KHB: I have experienced a wonderful quality of life in Southfield. Southfield is an extremely diverse and supportive community. I have always been actively engaged, whether it was participating in our annual MLK Peace Walk as a child, to becoming a member of the Southfield Total Living Commission as an adult and being a member of several local organizations.
AALM: Tell us about yourself outside the office. What do you do to unwind?
KHB: I spend a lot of time with my 3-month-old baby. Seeing her smile brings me incredible joy. I also enjoy listening to podcasts and riding my Peloton.
AALM: What is something your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
KHB: I was a competitive dancer, and I still enjoy dancing.
AALM: Looking back on your career so far, is there anything you’d change?
KHB: Looking back, I am proud of the path I took. I never focused on following a singular, specific trajectory, I just wanted to be a public servant and took steps in that direction. I am happy to be where I am today.