By JERRY WOLFFE
Attorney Richard Bernstein said his being blind from birth and becoming a voice for the voiceless in society will add to the fairness and perspective of the Michigan Supreme Court if he wins a seat in the Nov. 4 election.
“We can’t have the same kind of people” on the court said the Birmingham resident who was born blind and has filed dozens of civil rights cases on behalf of people with disabilities.
“Vision is a great distraction” to justice, he said in an exclusive interview Tuesday with this reporter who has written a “Voices of Disability” column for 15 years and wrote about Bernstein’s legal successes in making Detroit buses more accessible, Detroit Metropolitan Airport more aware of the needs of those with disabilities and seniors and the University of Michigan Stadium comply with the Americans with Disabilities Architectural Guidelines in a nationally followed lawsuit.
“People who are blind are not distracted by the types of things that create prejudice,” he said. “A good justice is a good listener. Blind people are inherently good listeners.”
Bernstein said those who criticize him for not having experience as a judge should consider some of the best Supreme Court Justices in America never worked behind the bench, including the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“A justice has to have unique life experience,” Bernstein said. “All the voices must be represented,” he said. “I am going to represent the idea of fairness. It (courts) must be fair to all people who come before the court. And, you only have fairness when all perspectives are at the table.”
Since he started campaigning for the court, Bernstein has criss-crossed the state.
“I’ve ran this race like I’ve run the 18 marathons and Ironman competition I have completed,” he said. “I believe I can make a positive difference in everyone’s life and this gives me the energy and impetus to push ahead.”
“Every one of our cases taught the general society that ‘what is good for those with disabilities is good for everyone.’ The work that we have done has transformed lives for everyone. I will approach the job of being a justice with fairness, tenacity and resolve to do what needs to be done no matter how difficult it may be.”
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.