Updated fundraising numbers won't be disclosed until next week, but numerous sources acknowledge that labor and trial lawyer leaders were disheartened by the nearly $8 million spent by the Democratic Party and progressive forces in 2012 only to lose in two of three races.
In 2014, now-Justice Richard BERNSTEIN came to the table with his own independent wealth, helping him nail down the seat being left by aged-out Justice Michael CAVANAGH.
This go around, a more collegial court is adding less incentive for trial lawyers and unions leaders to open up their wallets for what has proven to be a difficult task -- defeating candidates who have the title "Justice of the Supreme Court" written below their name.
"A lot of people's priority is the state House," said AFL-CIO CEO Ron BIEBER. "We have to break this monopoly of Republican power holding all three branches of government and a lot of people thought the state House should be the focus of our energy.
"I don't want to say it's not as high as a priority as it has been, but our first option was to take back the House."
In 2012, a combined $19 million, much of which was undisclosed spending, was dropped in the Michigan Supreme Court race in which now-Justice Bridget McCORMACK emerged as the only Democratic nominee to win.
The way 2016 is shaping up, the spending on the two Supreme Court races won't come close.
Last week, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce went up with their first TV ad encouraging support for Republican-nominated incumbents Joan LARSEN and David VIVIANO. Meanwhile, the first known ad designed to bolster the chances of Democratic nominees Frank SZYMANSKI and Deborah THOMAS is coming out of the Oakland County Democratic Party.
The size of that buy has not yet been determined, but it won't come anywhere near the $6.2 million the Michigan Democratic Party dropped in TV issue advertising in 2012 nor the money the Chamber is dropping into a statewide buy that has included network television.
"In 2012, we saw a race where dark money was dominant," said Craig MAUGER, of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "We're not seeing that kind of spending in 2016. There are judicial races across the country where we are seeing a lot more spending. Michigan doesn't appear to be a major judicial battleground right now."
Oakland County Democratic Party Chair Frank HOUSTON still kicks himself that if his county could have gone for Wayne County Judge Connie KELLEY in 2012, the court would have swung to a 4-3 majority of Democratic-nominated justices. Friday, the Republican-nominated justices have a 5-2 majority.
Yet, he concurred there's no reason to be ashamed in concentrating efforts on ending the lock Gov. Rick SNYDER and the GOP Legislature's have on the Capitol by going for a nine-seat gain in the state House.
"It's our best chance to at least slow down a pretty radicalized Republican Party in their effort to ideologically push this state right off the map," Houston said.
The personality change from the current Michigan Supreme Court compared to former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark BREWER's historic takeout of former Chief Supreme Court Justice Cliff TAYLOR is also marked.
Instead of predictable 5-2 or 4-3 decisions in which Taylor and the other Republican-nominated justices verbally locked horns with former Justice Marilyn KELLY and the late independent-minded Justice Elizabeth WEAVER, the 2016 Supreme Court is one of few split decisions.
Criminal defendants, in particular, have found themselves on the winning side of some cases, a chance from past practices.
Chief Justice Robert YOUNG Jr.'s chummy relationship with McCormack is one derived from a mutual respect. McCormack and Larsen are old colleagues at the University of Michigan. Also, Viviano and Bernstein, who has worked closely with Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY in drawing attention to those with special needs, have become friends.
"The Cliff Taylor court was terrible," said MAJ President Tom WAUN. "The atmosphere was terrible. The practitioners were embarrassed. The current justices have worked hard to restore their image and have done a great job together."
As a result, MAJ members are "less emotional" in terms of trying to rally the membership to raise money to take out certain justices.
Another Michigan attorney added, "There are some attorneys who actually like Viviano. They feel like he's someone who can keep an open mind and isn't as rigid as past justices."
This year's quiet Supreme Court race shouldn't be a surprise considering how long it took challengers to emerge on the Democratic side. In fact, Dearborn Judge Mark PLAWECKI pulled the plug on his race in June when he relayed that he wasn't getting the financial commitments needed to run a viable statewide campaign.
All that said, MDP Chair Brandon DILLON said the party is doing the best it can to promote Thomas and Szymanski given the "limited sources" the party has. The Democratic nominees are on the side of families and the middle class, as opposed to the corporations.
"We're working hard to make sure that voters are picking Judge Thomas and Judge Szymanski," Dillon said. "If we can get that message out to our voters, we will be successful."