Proposal to require Michigan courts to use preferred pronouns has some critics

  • Print

shutterstock_gender pronouns

Image from Shutterstock.

The Michigan Supreme Court has received some pushback on its proposal to require state courts to use preferred pronouns when identifying parties or lawyers.

The proposed rule states that parties and attorneys may include personal pronouns in the name section of case captions.

“Courts are required to use those personal pronouns when referring to or identifying the party or attorney, either verbally or in writing,” the proposal says. “Nothing in this subrule prohibits the court from using the individual’s name or other respectful means of addressing the individual if doing so will help ensure a clear record.”

Bloomberg Law, WILX 10 and the Washington Examiner are among the publications reporting on the proposal.

“Response from the judiciary has been lukewarm,” Bloomberg Law reports, “with some staff concerned about the potential pitfalls of making a mistake or creating confusion in court records or proceedings.”

Most appeals judges support the proposal, according to the chief judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals. But 12 appellate judges and 23 trial-level judges oppose the change. And two Michigan Supreme Court judges did not support consideration of the proposal.

A five-second Google search revealed a list of 762 possible pronouns, according to a letter by the trial judges in opposition.

“Perhaps we are wrong, but we seriously doubt that those who refer to themselves as Puppy, honk, Mew, Ci, n3 and splash harbor a deeply seated belief that is their authentic gender,” the letter says. “One need not contemplate long to think what mischievous parties—especially criminal defendants serving life sentences—will do with their newfound power.”

Those who oppose the rule cite three principal arguments, according to Bloomberg Law. They argue that the rule change would interfere with judges’ religious liberty, cause confusion and lead to possible lawsuits.

Bloomberg Law spoke with Charles Geyh, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, who argued that the arguments fail to carry weight because judges are already bound by duties of courtesy and civility.

“Put simply: You don’t have to believe that someone is a male when you call them mister, but courtesy dictates that you do so, even if you don’t believe in your heart of hearts that’s true,” Geyh said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.