Blind Judge Joins Michigan Supreme Court, Prepares By Listening To Case Briefs

Richard Bernstein is making history in Michigan, after winning a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court in November. Bernstein will be Michigan’s first blind judge in the Supreme Court. Though he won’t be sworn into office until Thursday, he is already preparing for his new position by memorizing case briefs.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that since winning the election in November, Bernstein has been listening to an assistant who reads legal briefs aloud. Bernstein has the assistant read and repeat all aspects of the briefings, including footnotes. Bernstein then memorizes all the key points of each case.

The Republic notes that Bernstein, who is 41-years-old, has been blind since birth. Though Bernstein is the first blind judge in Michigan’s Supreme Court, he is not the first in the U.S. The Republic points to two other blind judges currently presiding.

“In Missouri, Justice Richard Teitelman has been legally blind since age 13. Judge David Tatel, who is blind, sits on a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.”

When asked if his job would be easier if he could read and write, Bernstein was open and honest, saying that was simply not how he was created.

“It would be much easier if I could read and write like everyone else, but that’s not how I was created. No question, it requires a lot more work, but the flip side is it requires you to operate at the highest level of preparedness… This is what I’ve done my entire life. This goes all the way back to grade school for me.”

Bernstein does note that legal aides will have a much different interaction with him versus other judges. Instead of long-written communication or emails, his clerks will speak face-to-face with the judge.

“My chambers will be unique. Not many clerks will have as much interaction with a justice as mine will.”

Other judges hope that Bernstein will bring something new to the table. With a heavy background in disability claims, Bernstein will bring a new set of expertise to the table, as the other justices have little experience in those areas. Aside from being Michigan’s first blind Supreme Court judge, Bernstein is well-known for his extreme strength and resilience.

“He has run more than 15 marathons, and in 2008 completed a triathlon by riding a bike 112 miles, running 26.2 miles and swimming 2.4 miles with the help of guides. In 2012, he made headlines in New York City after being struck by a speeding bicyclist while running in Central Park, a collision that put him in a hospital for weeks.”

Do you think Bernstein will bring something unique to Michigan’s Supreme Court as the state’s first blind judge?