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Courtney Ochab
BY Courtney Ochab

Richard Bernstein to Become First Blind State Supreme Court Justice

Voters answered Richard Bernstein’s call to blind justice on Tuesday, November 4th, with his election as Michigan Supreme Court Justice. With his election a transformational message was sent to America’s disability community, and to the nation as a whole, that the fundamental rights of people are to be expanded. Bernstein will provide a voice not only for the Democratic party within the Supreme Court, but for people with disabilities and individuals whose voices may otherwise go unheard.

“I have come to believe that life is not always fair, but judges should always be,” Bernstein said. “I’m here because I believe in the idea of blind justice. I’m here because I believe in the idea of fairness for all people.”

Rising to the challengeRichard Bernstein

Throughout his campaign Richard Bernstein, being blind since birth, called attention to his condition and constantly highlighted his struggles in education and his work as a legal advocate for individuals with disabilities. His story is a powerful narrative of the triumph of the human spirit. His rise to the center of Democratic politics and his election into the Supreme Court is a significant demonstration that disability does not mean inability.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-founder of Friendship Circle International and Executive Director of Friendship Circle of Michigan said, “This is a milestone and a cause for celebration for all those who advocate on behalf of individuals with special needs. Richard’s accomplishment will be an inspiration to all those working to overcome a disability.”

Richard Bernstein is living proof that anyone can overcome a disability. “You come to realize that there’s tremendous power within you,” Bernstein said. As a man who was not dealt a fair hand in life, he knows a thing or two about tapping into that “power within.”

Law School Experiences

Bernstein never allowed his disability to hinder any of his achievements and he received a juris doctorate degree, a first professional graduate degree in law, from Northwestern University, not an easy task in itself.

Before his acceptance Bernstein fought the Law School Admissions Council against the visual bias of the LSAT, claiming the test discriminates against the blind due to its requirements of interpreting visual materials. Four universities agreed with Bernstein and at the time of his admittance he was the only blind individual in the law school.

To complete his studies, Bernstein would memorize lectures and notes that were read aloud to him. For tests, he memorized the questions and entire fact patterns, the basis for questions. Some of these were as long as five pages of information. The fact patterns would be repeated to him until he committed the entire question to memory and was able to provide an answer. From there he proceeded to become a lawyer and practice law in federal court. But he did not just stop there.

Richard Bernstein the Athlete

Bernstein took up running and entered 18 marathons. And if that wasn’t enough, he embarked upon the challenge of participating in an Ironman Triathlon. That’s swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running another 26.2 miles. Now, imagine doing that blind and completing all of that in a little over 12 hours.

Richard Bernstein at Walk4Friendship

Richard Bernstein with Senator Elect Gary Peters and Diana Lewis at Friendship Circle’s Walk4Friendship

Bernstein also is a powerful advocate for runners with disabilities. Working with many non-profits and groups, including the Friendship Circle, Bernstein wants the community to experience the joys of fresh air and the triumphant feeling of reaching and crossing the finish line of a race.

Overcoming Injury

In 2008 Bernstein faced a setback with his running career when his pelvis was crushed by an out-of-control bicyclist crashed into his back at 30 miles per hour. After months in the hospital Bernstein got back on his feet and put on his running shoes again. “I had a choice to make,” Bernstein said. “I could be an invalid for life, or I could start taking little steps. Those little steps were painful, but I was able to get back to a life that resembles normality for me.”

Winning the seat on Michigan’s Supreme Court is another triumph for Bernstein, one he takes with modesty. “It’s through challenge and hardship,” he said, “you can achieve what is great.”

Courtney Ochab

Written on November 5, 2014 by:

Courtney Ochab graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Creative Writing. She spent a semester studying at Charles University in Prague learning how to develop engaging prose to heighten imagery and draw an emotional response from the reader. Since, she has become a predominate freelancer in Detroit, and has focused her stories about the passions that lie within and just beyond the city’s limits.