Nessel is the second openly gay person elected attorney general of a state in the United States (after Maura Healey of Massachusetts) as well as the first openly LGBT person elected to statewide office in Michigan. She is also the first Jewish person elected Attorney General of Michigan.
Early life and legal career
In 1987, Nessel graduated from West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan. She played soccer and was named All-State. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and her Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School. She worked as a prosecutor in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
In 2014, Nessel successfully argued for the plaintiffs in DeBoer v. Snyder, which declared that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional; the case was eventually combined with others and appealed to the Supreme Court as Obergefell v. Hodges. In 2016, she founded , a nonprofit organization that supports LGBT rights.
Michigan Attorney General
In 2018, Nessel won the Democratic Party nomination for Michigan Attorney General over Patrick Miles Jr., and defeated Republican Tom Leonard and three other candidates in the general election. She succeeded term-limited Republican Bill Schuette who ran unsuccessfully for the office of governor.
Nessel was sworn into office on January 1, 2019. She is the first openly gay person and first openly LGBT person elected to statewide office in Michigan. She is the first Democrat to serve as attorney general since Jennifer Granholm left the office in 2003, a gap of 16 years.
Upon taking office, Nessel joined two federal lawsuits against a 2017 rule change to the Affordable Care Act by the Trump administration which exempted moral or religious groups from providing contraceptive coverage for employees. She said that one of the top priorities of her office would be to scrutinize two bills passed in 2018 during the lame-duck session which loosened environmental regulations in Michigan.
Nessel also withdrew Michigan from federal lawsuits initiated by Schuette.
Flint water crisis
While campaigning to become Attorney General for Michigan, Nessel made a series of statements regarding the Flint water crisis and its investigation leading up to the 2018 Michigan Attorney General election which took place on November 6, 2018.
- On April 4, 2018, then-candidate Nessel met with community members at the Flint Public Library and spoke with NBC 25, a local television station which serves Flint and the Tri-Cities area. If elected, Nessel said she would not be held to corporate interests, and would protect the citizens of Flint. “The last thing we need is to have people in government that poison their own residents, that engage in cover-ups, or who use a terrible incident like that to politicize the office of attorney general and use it for their own personal gain. We need someone who just cares about our state residents once again and that’s what I want to do,” said Nessel.
- On Oct. 12, 2018 Nessel told WDET-FM, a public radio station in Detroit, she “did not believe that these cases have been handled correctly.” Nessel hinted at the possibility of withdrawing or dismissing charges, saying “whether or not there are bad actors that should have been charged or not, including the governor, I think that has to be reevaluated and reexamined,” she says.
- Nessel had told the Macomb Daily on Oct. 18, 2018 she “could see [the potential for expanded prosecutions]” and “did not agree with the way the prosecutions [had] unfolded.” Nessel cited her opposition to Todd Flood, a prominent donor to then Governor Rick Snyder, being named as the crisis’ special prosecutor who would potentially investigate Snyder.
- That same day, Nessel had told Michigan Radio she was “suspect of [the Flint] investigation quite frankly from the beginning. Nessel felt “political expediency was being prioritized instead of justice.” As Attorney General, she said she would “take a second look at the investigation, make certain that all of the people who have charges pending have been charged properly and look to see if there’s anyone who should have been charged, but who hasn’t been.” 
- In a series of three videos produced and released between September and October 2018 by her campaign, “Dana Nessel For Michigan Attorney General,” Nessel stood before Michigan’s waterways and promised a tough stance on justice for the city of Flint along with committing to other protections regarding clean water for Michiganders.
Dismissal of charges
On June 13, 2019, Michigan Attorney General Nessel’s office dismissed all pending criminal cases tied to the Flint water crisis. Under Michigan’s previous attorney general, a Republican, 15 people were charged with crimes related to the water crisis. Several pleaded no contest and were convicted. Prosecutorial overreach possibly tainting the judicial process plagued the investigation from the beginning. Nessel, a Democrat, had appointed a new team of prosecutors to oversee the remaining cases after she took office January 1, 2019.
The dismissal effectively ended prosecutions of eight current and former officials accused of neglecting their duties and allowing Flint residents to drink tainted, dangerous water. Children of Flint drank poisoned water with dangerous quantities of lead. At least 12 people died in a Legionnaires’ outbreak that prosecutors linked to the water change. Among the officials whose charges were dropped: the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a state epidemiologist, a former Flint public works director and emergency managers who had been appointed to oversee the city. Some defendants had faced charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter. The defence lawyer for Howard Croft, the former Flint public works director who was charged with involuntary manslaughter, said the “attorney general’s decision validated his concerns about the investigation” and credited Nessel’s “courage” in deciding to dismiss all criminal charges.
The decision to dismiss all charges was met with considerable outrage from Michiganders, clean water activists, and residents of Flint, the latter who felt their crisis was being forgotten. Prosecutors Fadwa Hammoud and Kym Worthy, who oversaw the case, blamed missteps by the previous prosecution team for their office’s decision, citing “immediate and grave concerns about the investigative approach and legal theories.” Hammoud and Worthy noted they were not precluded from refiling charges against the defendants or adding new charges and defendants.
Nessel defended her prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges, but also sought to assuage the concerns of Flint residents, stating “justice delayed is not always justice denied.”
Other high-profile cases
Since taking office, Nessel has had a number of high-profile opinions overturned by state and federal courts.
Enbridge tunnel project
In 2018, Michigan passed a law codifying an agreement between the state and Enbridge Energy to replace the Enbridge Line 5, sitting on the lakebed underneath the Straits of Mackinac with a tunnel below the bedrock. Despite a judge’s ruling upholding the law in March 2019, Nessel issued an opinion that month stating the law was unconstitutional “because its provisions go beyond the scope of what was disclosed in its title.”. After Enbridge filed a lawsuit, a Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled in favor of Enbridge and rejected Nessel’s reasoning, stating, “the argument advanced by defendants misses the mark.”
Upon appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, Nessel’s request to overturn the Court of Claims decision was denied and her opinion was again overruled, allowing Enbridge to continue work on the tunnel and requiring the state to process the necessary permits.
St. Vincent adoption agency
Shortly after taking office, Nessel changed state policy to require that contracts with adoption agencies refusing to work directly with LGBT couples be terminated; previously, such agencies had been allowed (and been required) to refer LGBT couples to different adoption agencies. The St. Vincent adoption agency, a Catholic organization, sued Nessel, asking to be allowed to continue operating under state contract as before the new policy. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker ruled in favor of the adoption agency, writing that “the state’s new position targets St. Vincent’s religious beliefs.” Nessel requested a stay of the ruling, but Jonker denied this as well, stating, “the state has offered nothing new and has failed to come to grips with the factual basis on the preliminary injunction record that supports the inference of religious targeting in this case.”
|Libertarian||Lisa Lane Giola||86,692||2.10%||+0.24%|
|Taxpayers||Gerald Van Sickle||38,103||0.92%||-0.08%|
|Democratic gain from Republican||Swing|
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- Oosting, Jonathan. “Judge upholds Line 5 tunnel law despite ‘constitutional defect‘“. Detroit News. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
- LeBlanc, Beth (March 28, 2019). “Nessel’s opinion used to halt Line 5 tunnel work”. Detroit News. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
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- LeBlanc, Beth (September 26, 2019). “Federal judge halts Michigan’s new gay adoption rules”. Detroit News. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
- Hicks, Mark (October 22, 2019). “Judge denies Michigan attorney general’s motion in same-sex adoption case”. Detroit News. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
- “Dana Nessel, the first openly gay politician elected to Michigan state office, draws inspiration from Judaism”. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
- Lessenberry, Jack (April 27, 2018). “Dana Nessel makes a run for Michigan attorney general”. The Blade. Toledo, OH. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
- “2018 Michigan Official General Election Results – 11/06/2018”. Mielections.us. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
| Attorney General of Michigan