Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Coordinates: 42°21?33?N 71°03?39?W / 42.359297°N 71.060954°W / 42.359297; -71.060954

Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.png
Seal with motto "Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus, rectum aut justitiam" (To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice)
LocationBoston, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°21?32.75?N 71°3?40.5?W / 42.3590972°N 71.061250°W / 42.3590972; -71.061250
Composition methodExecutive appointments with quasi-legislative consent
Authorized byMassachusetts Constitution
Appeals toSupreme Court of the United States
Judge term lengthMandatory retirement at 70 years of age
Number of positions7
WebsiteOfficial website
Chief Justice
SinceSeptember 14, 2020
John Adams Courthouse, home to the SJC

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although the claim is disputed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,[1][2] the SJC claims the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Americas,[3] 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.[4][nb 1]

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 citation

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 legal citation for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is "Mass."

Landmark cases

  • 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.[6]
  • 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.[7]
  • 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 ..."[8] 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[9] 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."[10] 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 since 1972.

Current composition

The currently serving justices are:

Justice Born Began service Reaches age 70 Appointed by Law school
Vacant, Chief Justice Currently vacant due to the death of Ralph Gants[11][12]
Barbara Lenk, Acting Chief Justice (1950-12-02) December 2, 1950 (age 69) June 8, 2011[13] 2020 Deval Patrick (D) Harvard
Frank Gaziano (1963-09-08) September 8, 1963 (age 57) August 18, 2016 2034 Charlie Baker (R) Suffolk
David A. Lowy 1959/1960 (age 60-61) August 24, 2016 2031 Charlie Baker (R) BU
Kimberly S. Budd (1966-10-23) October 23, 1966 (age 54) August 24, 2016 2036 Charlie Baker (R) Harvard
Elspeth B. Cypher (1959-02-26) February 26, 1959 (age 61) March 31, 2017[14] 2029 Charlie Baker (R) Suffolk
Scott L. Kafker (1959-04-24) April 24, 1959 (age 61) August 21, 2017 2029 Charlie Baker (R) Chicago

Notable members

List of Justices


  1. ^ The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disputes this, claiming to be eight years older.[5]


  1. ^ ["Supreme Court - Courts - Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania". Retrieved 7 July 2017. "Supreme Court - Courts - Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania". Retrieved 7 July 2017.] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ The Virginia Supreme Court was founded as a appellete Court in 1623;it became a Supreme Court in 1779; The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was founded as a Provincial Court in 1684; it became a Supreme Court in 1722;the New York Supreme Court was established as the Supreme Court of Judicature by the Province of New York on May 6, 1691. It became the New York Supreme Court under the New York Constitutional Convention of 1846.
  3. ^ "Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts home page". Archived from the original on 2013-11-06. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Eichholz, Alice (2004). Alice Eichholz (ed.). Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (3rd Revised ed.). Ancestry Publishing. p. 316. ISBN 978-1593311667.
  5. ^ "About the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania - SCOPA Review". Archived from the original on 21 May 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ Zobel, Hiller (1970). Boston Massacre, pp. 243-265
  7. ^ Zobel, pp. 269-286
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Gants (September 20, 2016). "Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren" (475 Mass. 530). Archived from the original on June 11, 2019. Retrieved 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Bianco, Marcie. "An American court has set a huge precedent for Black Lives Matter activists". Quartz. Archived from the original on 27 May 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  11. ^ "Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants Dies At 65". Archived from the original on 2020-09-14. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Ellement, John R.; Travis; Staff, ersen Globe; September 14, Updated; 2020; Comments, 43 minutes agoEmail to a Friend Share on Facebook Share on TwitterPrint this Article View. "SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants has died - The Boston Globe". Archived from the original on 2020-09-14. Retrieved .CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Levenson, Michael (May 4, 2011). "Lenk approved for SJC; first openly gay justice on state's highest court". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on May 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  14. ^ "Justice Margot Botsford retires from SJC - The Boston Globe". Archived from the original on 19 May 2017. Retrieved 2017.

Works cited

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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