Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
|Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court|
|Method:||Gubernatorial appointment of judges|
|Term:||Until 70 years of age|
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is not only the court of last resort in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but it is also the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere. Originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, it was established in 1692. The court's name was changed to its current one by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.
The court meets in the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, Mass.
JusticesThe Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has seven justices.
|Justice Francis Spina||1999-2016||Gov. Paul Cellucci|
|Justice Robert Cordy||2001-2019||Gov. Paul Cellucci|
|Justice Margot Botsford||2007-2017||Gov. Deval Patrick|
|Justice Barbara Lenk||2011-2020||Gov. Deval Patrick|
|Justice Fernande Duffly||2011-Present||Gov. Deval Patrick|
|Justice Geraldine S. Hines||2014-Present||Gov. Deval Patrick|
|Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants||2009-2024||Gov. Deval Patrick|
The court is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices. Each justice is appointed by the governor and approved by the executive council. Justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hold tenured appointments until they reach 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.
Selection of the chief justice
The chief justice is appointed by the governor with executive council approval and serves until age 70, as well.
For more information on judicial selection in the state, see Judicial selection in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts' top court hears appeals of criminal and civil cases. It may also issue advisory opinions, if requested by the governor or state legislature. The court is also the administrative head of the state judiciary and bar.
|“||To promote the rule of law and foster public trust by leading an independent judiciary that assures every person equal access to the fair, timely and impartial resolution of disputes in courts managed with efficiency and professionalism.||”|
—Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Massachusetts was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Massachusetts received a score of -0.44. Based on the justices selected, Massachusetts was the 11th most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.
Removal of justices
Judges in Massachusetts may be removed from office in three different ways. If there is an allegation of misconduct, the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct first investigates the complaint. The investigation is followed by a formal hearing. The commission then issues a recommendation to the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the judge, who committed the misconduct, be removed, reprimanded, or be retired from the bench. Governors may also remove a judge, once they have the approval of the governor's council, and with the joint address of both houses of the general court. Governors, again with the approval of the governor's council, may also require judges to retire from the bench, once they have reached the mandatory retirement age or due to a mental or physical disability. Judges may also face removal through impeachment by the Massachusetts House of Representatives and then by conviction by the Massachusetts Senate."
In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Massachusetts earned a grade of D in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.
| • Court says photos secretly taken up a woman's skirt are legal (2014)||Click for summary→|
|The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down a surprising ruling on March 5, 2014, that sent prosecutors on a mission to change a state law. The court ruled that the practice of secretly taking a photo or video up a person's clothing, which is known as "upskirting," is perfectly legal under state law.
The defendant in the case was Michael Robertson, who was arrested in 2010 for using his cell phone to take pictures and video up the skirts or dresses of female passengers on the public trolley. After the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) received multiple complaints, they caught him in the act by sending an undercover female officer onto the trolley. He was charged with two counts of attempting to secretly photograph a person in a state of partial nudity.
The court's decision that Robertson's actions were not illegal was based on the fact that a woman wearing a skirt or dress is not considered partially nude. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of Robertson and granted his request to dismiss the case. The ruling stated:
The court further explained that the state law "does not apply to photographing (or videotaping or electronically surveilling) persons who are fully clothed."
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley responded to the ruling by saying, "Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her own clothing...If the statute as written doesn't protect that privacy, then I'm urging the Legislature to act rapidly and adjust it so it does."
- The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere.
- Three chief justices of the Supreme Judicial Court later served on the U.S. Supreme Court. They were William Cushing, Horace Gray and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Former chief justices
|#||Chief Justice||Took office||Left office|
|2||Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant||1790||1791|
|6||Isaac Parker||August 24, 1814||July 25, 1830|
|7||Lemuel Shaw||August 30, 1830||August 21, 1860|
|8||George Tyler Bigelow||September 7, 1860||December 31, 1867|
|9||Reuben Atwater Chapman||February 7, 1868||June 28, 1873|
|10||Horace Gray||September 5, 1873||January 9, 1882|
|11||Marcus Morton||January 16, 1882||August 27, 1890|
|12||Walbridge A. Field||September 4, 1890||July 15, 1899|
|13||Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.||August 2, 1899||December 8, 1902|
|14||Marcus Perrin Knowlton||December 17, 1902||September 7, 1911|
|15||Arthur Prentice Rugg||September 20, 1911||June 12, 1938|
|16||Fred Tarbell Field||June 30, 1938||July 24, 1947|
|17||Stanley Elroy Qua||August 6, 1947||September 6, 1956|
|18||Raymond Sanger Wilkins||September 13, 1956||September 1, 1970|
|19||G. Joseph Tauro||1970||1976|
|20||Edward F. Hennessey||1976||April 19, 1989|
|21||Paul J. Liacos||June 20, 1989||September 30, 1996|
|22||Herbert P. Wilkins||October 1, 1996||August 31, 1999|
|23||Margaret Marshall||October 14, 1999||2010|
|25||Ralph D. Gants||2014||Incumbent (term ends 2024)|
- News: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gives thumbs up to the middle finger, sometimes, January 31, 2012
- News: Former mayor to lead Massachusetts Supreme Court, January 14, 2012
- Judicial selection in Massachusetts
- Courts in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Constitution
- Massachusetts Court System, "Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts"
- Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, "Court Decisions"
- Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society
- Massachusetts Court System, "About the Supreme Judicial Court," accessed January 29, 2015
- American Bar Association, "Fact sheet on judicial selection methods in the states," accessed August 25, 2014
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Massachusetts," archived October 2, 2014
- Massachusetts Legislature, "Constitution: Chapter III, Article I," accessed April 22, 2015
- Mass.gov, "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," accessed March 24, 2015
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Massachusetts Courts, "Supreme Judicial Court Case Statistics," accessed April 7, 2015
- Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Selection: Removal of Judges," accessed March 24, 2015
- Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
- WPBF.com, "Massachusetts court: 'Upskirt' photos legal," March 5, 2014
- Massachusetts Legislature, "Bill H.3934: An Act relative to unlawful sexual surveillance," accessed March 24, 2015
- NPR: The Two-Way, "Mass. Lawmakers Rework Measure That Permitted 'Upskirt' Photos," March 6, 2014
|Former||Margaret Marshall • John Greaney • Roderick Ireland • Judith Cowin • William Cushing • Martha Sosman • Horace Gray • Oliver Wendell Holmes • Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant •|