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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
The highest court in the U.S. state of Massachusetts
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, 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]
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.
Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison (1783) - The Court declared slaveryunconstitutional 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.
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.
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^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.