But Corrigan, a justice on one of the country's most conservative state courts, may have just what some Republicans are looking for: practical experience away from the bench and a firm commitment to judicial restraint.
As First Lady Laura Bush and other court watchers urge the president to replace Sandra Day O'Connor with a woman, Corrigan could be an attractive choiceperhaps without the nasty confirmation battle that is almost certain with some of the more outspoken candidates on the list.
"On the Michigan scene, as far as I can see, I've never heard or read that people think that she's an extremist," said Robert Griffin, a former U.S. senator from Michigan who also served with Corrigan on the Michigan Court of Appeals. "She's very competent, does a very good job."
Corrigan graduated from Marygrove College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Detroit, and received her law degree from the University of Detroit in 1973. She served as a law clerk at the Michigan Court of Appeals for one year before becoming an assistant prosecuting attorney for the state. In 1979, she became the chief of appeals in the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit, where she worked for a decade, eventually becoming the chief assistant U.S. attorney. In 1989, Corrigan moved to a private law firm in Detroit, Plunkett & Cooney, where she specialized in defending local governments in criminal and civil rights cases, said Mary Massaron Ross, a lawyer at the firm.
Ross said few lawyers in the firm were surprised when Michigan Gov. John Engler appointed Corrigan to the state Court of Appeals in 1992. Corrigan was twice elected by Michigan voters to that court and then was nominated by the Republican Party in 1998 for an open seat on the Michigan Supreme Courta seat that she won. From 2001 to 2004, she served as the court's Chief Justice and has presided over what some describe as one of the most conservative state courts in the country.
Since 1999, four of the seven justices on the court, including Corrigan, have strongly emphasized their commitment to following legislative intent through "textual analysis," a philosophy of judicial restraint championed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. In a 2004 article, Corrigan criticized activist judges for relying on an "antidemocratic premise that judges just know better . . . . The constant temptation in judging is to be expedient, to reach out and fix what appears to be wrong. I know that I was not elected as chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to be a philosopher-king."
The court's four conservative justices make up the core of the court's 5-2 Republican majority that almost always prevails. The split on the court has led to many heated dissents from the court's two liberal justices. Some criminal-defense lawyers say the court's philosophy has made it difficult for them to win appellate cases, yet other observers say the court's rulings have become much more predictable and consistent since 1999.
"The court is a court that sees its role as having a more limited perspective than the courts in the 1970s and 1980s because it gives great deference to legislative intent," said Patricia Boyle, a former justice on the Michigan Supreme Court.
Corrigan has also led an effort to reform the state's system for handling foster care and adoption cases and has served on a Pew Commission studying foster care issues in the United States. Corrigan's son is studying the law at Wayne State University, where her late husband, Joseph Grano, taught. Her daughter is a comedian with Second City in Chicago.
"She's a pragmatist, but she's well grounded," said Boyle. "Like Justice O'Connor, she has a lot of practical background. I don't always agree with her, but she's not a person who is set in stone. Lawyers sometimes say that what they really want in a judge is someone who is prepared and will listen, and I think she does that."