Judicial selection in Massachusetts

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Massachusetts
Seal of Massachusetts.png
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Method:   Gubernatorial appointment with approval of Governor's Council
Term:   Until age 70
Massachusetts Appeals Court
Method:   Assisted appointment with approval of Governor's Council
Term:   Until age 70
Massachusetts Superior Courts
Method:   Assisted appointment with approval of Governor's Council
Term:   Until age 70

Selection of state court judges in Massachusetts occurs through gubernatorial appointment with approval from the Governor's Council. The appeals court and superior court also require recommendations from a nominating commission, as do the limited jurisdiction courts.[1]

Massachusetts is one of only a few states in which judges serve lifetime appointments. They are, however, required to retire by age 70.[2][1][3]

Supreme Judicial Court

See also: Gubernatorial appointment

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor with the approval of the Governor's Council. They serve terms lasting until age 70.

Selection of the chief justice

The chief justice is also appointed by the governor with council approval, serving until age 70 as well.[1]


Judges of this court must be under the age of 70.[1]

Court of Appeals and Superior Court

See also: Assisted appointment

The 25 judges of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the 82 judges of the Massachusetts Superior Courts are appointed in an identical manner, each serving until the age of 70. The governor appoints new judges with advice from the judicial nominating commission.[1]

Selection of the chief judge

The chief judge of the court of appeals is selected just as other appeals judges are. The governor appoints him or her with advice from the nominating commission and approval from the Governor's Council. The appeals court chief serves until age 70.[1]

The superior court chief is selected by the chief justice of the supreme judicial court and serves in that capacity for five years.[1]


To serve on either of these courts, a judge must:

  • be a U.S. citizen;
  • be a state resident;
  • be a state bar member in good standing; and
  • have 13 years legal experience and training (10 years for superior court judges);
  • under the age of 70 (retirement at 70 is mandatory).[1]

These listed qualifications are prescribed in Order 500.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

See also: Assisted appointment

Massachusetts's limited jurisdiction courts (the district courts, municipal courts, housing courts, land courts, probate courts and juvenile courts) use identical processes in selecting their judges. Judges are appointed by the governor with help from a nominating commission and confirmed by the Governor's Council. They serve until age 70.[4]


To serve on any of the limited jurisdiction courts, a judge must:

  • be a U.S. citizen;
  • be a state resident;
  • be a state bar member in good standing;
  • have at least 10 years of legal experience and training.[4]

Governor's Council

The Governor's Council, also referred to as the Executive Council, is a governmental body that is constitutionally authorized to approve judicial appointments. The council consists of eight members who are elected every two years from each of the eight council districts.[5]

The Governor's Council holds hearings and approves the governor's nominations to the appellate, district, probate, juvenile, superior and supreme courts. The council holds hearings and approves nominations for the industrial accident and parole boards, in addition to approving appointments for notary publics and justices of the peace. The council is responsible for approving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' financial warrants. Any time the governor issues a pardon or commutes a sentence, the council must vote to approve or deny his decision.[5]


Judicial selection in Massachusetts has undergone relatively few changes considering the age of the state. The American Judicature Society notes two formal changes:

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[7]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


MassachusettsMassachusetts Supreme Judicial CourtMassachusetts Appeals CourtMassachusetts Superior CourtsMassachusetts District CourtsMassachusetts Housing CourtsMassachusetts Juvenile CourtsMassachusetts Land CourtsMassachusetts Probate and Family CourtsBoston Municipal Courts, MassachusettsUnited States District Court for the District of MassachusettsUnited States bankruptcy court, District of MassachusettsUnited States Court of Appeals for the First CircuitMassachusetts countiesMassachusetts judicial newsMassachusetts judicial electionsJudicial selection in MassachusettsMassachusettsTemplate.jpg