Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SJC claims the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Americas, with a recognized history dating to the establishment of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature in 1692 under the charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. [nb 1]
|Supreme Judicial Court|
|Composition method||Executive appointments with quasi-legislative consent|
|Authorized by||Massachusetts Constitution|
|Decisions are appealed to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Since||July 28, 2014|
|Lead position ends||2024|
Although it was historically composed of four associate justices and one chief justice, the court is currently composed of six associate justices and one chief justice.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court traces its history back to the high court of the British Province of Massachusetts Bay, which was chartered in 1692. Under the terms of that charter, Governor Sir William Phips established the Superior Court of Judicature as the province's local court of last resort (some of the court's decisions could be appealed to courts in England). When the Massachusetts State Constitution was established in 1780, legislative and judicial records show that the state's high court, although renamed, was a continuation of provincial high court. During and after the period of the American Revolution the court had members who were appointed by royal governors, the executive council of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (which acted as the state's executive from 1775 to 1780), and governors elected under the state constitution.
Location and citationEdit
The SJC sits at the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, Massachusetts 02108, which also houses the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the Social Law Library. The proper legal citation for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is "Mass."
- Rex v. Preston (1770) – Captain Thomas Preston, the Officer of the Day during the Boston Massacre, was acquitted when the jury was unable to determine whether he had ordered the troops to fire. The defense counsel in the case was a young attorney named John Adams, later the second President of the United States.
- Rex v. Wemms, et al. (1770) – Six soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre were found not guilty, and two more – the only two proven to have fired – were found guilty of manslaughter.
- Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison (1783) – The Court declared slavery unconstitutional in the state of Massachusetts by allowing slaves to sue their masters for freedom. Boston lawyer, and member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1779, John Lowell, upon the adoption of Article I for inclusion in the Massachusetts Constitution, exclaimed: "...I will render my services as a lawyer gratis to any slave suing for his freedom if it is withheld from him..." With this case, he fulfilled his promise. Slavery in Massachusetts was denied legal standing.
- Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842) – The Court established that trade unions were not necessarily criminal or conspiring organizations if they did not advocate violence or illegal activities in their attempts to gain recognition through striking. This legalized the existence of non-socialist or non-violent trade organizations, though trade unions would continue to be harassed legally through anti-trust suits and injunctions.
- Roberts v. Boston (1850) – The Court established the "separate but equal" doctrine that would later be used in Plessy v. Ferguson by maintaining that the law gave school boards complete authority in assigning students to schools and that they could do so along racial lines if they deemed it appropriate.
- Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (2003) – The Court ruled 4–3 that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the Massachusetts Constitution. The decision was stayed for 180 days to allow the legislature time to amend the law to comply with the decision. In December 2003, the state Senate asked the SJC whether "civil unions" would comply with their ruling. The SJC replied that civil unions were insufficient, and civil marriage was required. The legislature made no further action, and the stay expired on May 17, 2004. The state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples the same day. This decision was one of the first in the world to find that same-sex couples have a right to marry.
- Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren (2016) – The Court overturned the conviction of Jimmy Warren, a black man arrested by the Boston Police Department in 2011. According to the police, Warren's appearance resembled that of the description of a man BPD were searching for in connection with a burglary. When confronted by police, Warren ran away; when police eventually caught up to him, he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. This case is notable because, according to news reporting, the court holds that "it was within Warren’s legal rights to run from the police and, furthermore, the act of running away from the police does not imply guilt and is not grounds for arrest." The same news report identifies this case as an example of the SJC recognizing the systemic effects of racism in Massachusetts.
The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts with the consent of the Governor's Council. The Justices hold office until the mandatory retirement age of seventy, like all other Massachusetts judges.
The currently serving justices are:
|Reaches age 70|
|Ralph Gants||2009 (Assoc.)
|Deval Patrick (both)||2024|
|Barbara Lenk||2011||Deval Patrick||2020|
|Frank M. Gaziano||2016||Charlie Baker||2034|
|David A. Lowy||2016||Charlie Baker||2031|
|Kimberly S. Budd||2016||Charlie Baker||2036|
|Elspeth B. Cypher||2017 ||Charlie Baker||2029|
|Scott L. Kafker||2017||Charlie Baker||2029|
- William Cushing, Horace Gray, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. were Chief Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court when they were appointed to serve as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
- Lemuel Shaw was one of the greatest American judges of the mid-19th century
- Charles Fried, who served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1995 to 1999, was United States Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989 under Ronald Reagan
List of Chief JusticesEdit
Associate justices appointed by royal governors (1692–1775)Edit
All judges appointed before 1695 were reappointed in that year (except John Richards, who had died) because the legislation creating the court was vetoed in that year by the Privy Council. Several further attempts to legislate the court's existence were vetoed, and it was not until 1699 that the provincial assembly enacted laws creating courts that satisfied the Privy Council.
|Thomas Danforth||1692||1699||Sir William Phips||Died in office.|
|Wait Winthrop||1692||1701||Sir William Phips||Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1702. Winthrop rejoined the court as chief justice in 1708, and died while holding that office in 1717.|
|John Richards||1692||1694||Sir William Phips||Died in office.|
|Samuel Sewall||1692||1718||Sir William Phips||Promoted to chief justice; resigned 1728.|
|Elisha Cooke, Sr.||1695||1702||William Stoughton||Died in office.|
|John Walley||1700||1712||William Stoughton||Died in office.|
|John Saffin||1701||1702||Governor's Council||Appointment not renewed upon the accession of Queen Anne.|
|John Hathorne||1702||1712||Joseph Dudley||Resigned.|
|John Leverett||1702||1708||Joseph Dudley||Resigned.|
|Jonathan Curwin||1708||1715||Joseph Dudley||Appointment not renewed upon the accession of King George I.|
|Benjamin Lynde, Sr.||1712||1729||Joseph Dudley||Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1745.|
|Nathaniel Thomas||1712||1718||Joseph Dudley||Died in office.|
|Addington Davenport||1715||1736||Died in office.|
|Edmund Quincy||1718||1737||Samuel Shute||Resigned.|
|Paul Dudley||1718||1745||Samuel Shute||Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1751.|
|John Cushing||1728||1733||William Burnet||Resigned.|
|Jonathan Remington||1733||1745||Jonathan Belcher||Died in office.|
|Richard Saltonstall||1736||1756||Jonathan Belcher||Resigned.|
|Thomas Graves||1737||1738||Jonathan Belcher||Resigned.|
|Stephen Sewall||1739||1752||Jonathan Belcher||Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1760.|
|Nathaniel Hubbard||1745||1746||William Shirley|
|Benjamin Lynde, Jr.||1747||1769||William Shirley||Promoted to chief justice; resigned, 1771.|
|John Cushing, Jr.||1747||1771||William Shirley||Resigned.|
|Chambers Russell||1752||1766||Spencer Phips||Died in office.|
|Peter Oliver||1756||1772||William Shirley||Promoted to chief justice; forced out during revolution, 1775.|
|Edmund Trowbridge||1767||1775||Francis Bernard||Forced out during revolution.|
|Foster Hutchinson (judge)||1771||1775||Thomas Hutchinson||Forced out during revolution.|
|Nathaniel Ropes||1772||1774||Thomas Hutchinson||Died in office.|
|William Cushing||1772||1777||Thomas Hutchinson||Survived reorganization of the court, 1775; promoted to chief justice, 1777; resigned upon appointment to United States Supreme Court, 1789.|
|William Brown||1774||1775||Thomas Hutchinson||Brown's appointment was approved during the tenure of Governor Thomas Gage, but was made by Hutchinson. Brown was forced out during the revolution.|
Justices appointed by the Provincial Congress (1775–1780)Edit
|John Adams||1775||1776||Adams never sat with the court, and resigned in 1776.|
|Nathaniel Sargent||1775||1791||Appointed chief justice by John Hancock in 1790.|
|William Reed||1775||Refused||Reed refused the appointment.|
|Robert Treat Paine||1776||Refused||Paine refused the appointment.|
|James Warren||1776||Refused||Warren refused the appointment.|
|Jedediah Foster||1776||1779||Died in office.|
|James Sullivan||1776||1807||Resigned to become governor.|
|David Sewall||1777||1789||Resigned to become judge of the United States District Court for Maine.|
Associate justices appointed under the state constitution (1780–present)Edit
- "Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts home page". Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- Eichholz, Alice (2004). Alice Eichholz (ed.). Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (3rd Revised ed.). Ancestry Publishing. p. 316. ISBN 978-1593311667.
- "About the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania – SCOPA Review". Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- Zobel, Hiller (1970). Boston Massacre, pp. 243–265
- Zobel, pp. 269–286
- Lowell, Delmar R., The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899 (p 35); Rutland VT, The Tuttle Company, 1899; ISBN 978-0-7884-1567-8.
- Gants (September 20, 2016). "Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren" (475 Mass. 530).
- Bianco, Marcie. "An American court has set a huge precedent for Black Lives Matter activists". Quartz. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
- Levenson, Michael (May 4, 2011). "Lenk approved for SJC; first openly gay justice on state's highest court". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
- "Justice Margot Botsford retires from SJC – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 7 July 2017.