Today, the state’s trial courts will take a break in honor of Chief Judicial Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gants. Courts will be closed to public affairs as a “Remembrance Day” for Gloves, who passed away earlier this week.
This will give the courts, the legal community and all of Massachusetts a moment to pay tribute to a lawyer who, as his fellow judges of the state’s highest court have said, is committed to “l ‘equity, equality before the law and justice for all’. “
Just 10 days ago, the four-year study at Harvard Law School, ordered by Gants, has been released. He documented racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.
The Chief Justice called the report “must read” for anyone committed to understanding the reasons for these disparities and taking action to end them. It provided a point of embarkation for a journey that Gants would have passionately and sensitively commissioned for our state’s justice system to work towards eliminating these disparities.
Now, in addition to the sadness associated with the loss of Gants, far too young at just 65, the State of Massachusetts and Governor Charlie Baker must face a pivotal moment in the history of its highest court.
With his appointing powers, Baker now has an unprecedented opportunity to turn the Judicial Supreme Court into a bench made up entirely of Baker. Typically, governors get perhaps two High Court appointments during their tenure. Before Gants’ death, Baker already knew he was set to take another seat on the pitch by the end of the year with the retirement of Judge Barbara Lenk, who will leave as she reaches the compulsory retirement age of 70 years. owed to the governor a week ago.
We hope the governor assesses potential court candidates that he carefully thinks about the advice offered three years ago when, in quick succession, he had three seats to fill in the court between August 2016 and August 2017. One of the retirees at the time was Judge Francis X. Spina, of Pittsfield.
Until Spina’s departure, there had been at least one member of the Western Massachusetts court in the past 100 years, and at one point there were two members.
As Baker reviewed the candidates, he was also invited by U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, 19 lawmakers from western Massachusetts, the presidents of the four bars of the region and of the clerks of four superior courts to have geographic diversity in the field. Newly elected governor’s adviser Mary Hurley has also lobbied the governor on the matter and made it one of her missions going forward.
In June, when Baker announced the last of the three appointments, Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal Scott J. Kafker of Swampscott, the governor, when asked about the issue of regional diversity, said: Obviously, we will continue to take our obligation and responsibility to ensure that the tribunal remains diverse both geographically and in terms of ethnicity and perspective as a key part of our decision-making process going forward.
Lenk’s retirement will leave a five-member tribunal who hails from eastern Worcester County and practiced extensively in Greater Boston. There will also only be one person of color, Kimberly S. Budd, who through family connections has ties to western Massachusetts. She is the daughter of Wayne A. Budd, a native of Springfield and a former US attorney.
The argument in favor of regional diversity is not to be taken lightly. We continue to be a state of two distinct regions, with very different challenges and economies. The governor and attorney general both have offices in western Massachusetts, which shows how this region is viewed as a separate area of the state with its own issues and concerns. The Supreme Judicial Court and the Court of Appeals both have administrative and other functions in which regional concerns are regularly addressed and both courts regularly convene sessions in western Massachusetts.
We strongly urge Governor Baker to respond to the need to have as much diversity as possible at the highest court in the state, not only gender and color diversity, but regional diversity as well. The time has come for the appointment of a judge from western Massachusetts.