The Supreme Judicial Court Nomination Factoids You’ve Been Waiting For

[Update, February 5: Justice Spina, who turns 70 this October, announced today that he will also retire in August. Because the Court’s term runs from September to August, this will likely make for a smoother transition.] 

On Wednesday, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy announced that he will retire in August. This means that Governor Baker will be appointing a majority of the members of the SJC — and pretty soon. Later this year, Justice Francis Spina turns 70, and under a state constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1972, must retire.  Justices Margot Botsford and Geraldine Hines reach the retirement age of 70 in 2017.  That’s a majority.

Here are some SJC nomination factoids.  Use them to amaze your friends.

Since the 1972 state constitutional amendment took effect 44 years ago, two other Governors besides Baker have had the opportunity to appoint an SJC majority: Governors Cellucci and Patrick.  Soon Baker will join them and will beat their times by several years.

Since 1972, every Governor but two got to make a couple SJC appointments: Jane Swift and Mitt Romney didn’t get to make any.

When asked yesterday for names of SJC role models, Baker named Justices Spina and Cordy, which makes sense — they are the two current SJC Justices who were nominated by Republican governor Cellucci.  But as it happens, Governor Cellucci, along with Governor Weld, launched the judicial careers of four of the five other SJC Justices, all of whom were elevated to the SJC by Deval Patrick: Governor Weld appointed Ralph Gants and Barbara Lenk to the Superior Court and Fernande Duffly to the Probate and Family Court in the 1990’s. Governor Paul Cellucci appointed Geraldine Hines to the Superior Court in 2001. Bipartisanship reigns.

The constitutional amendment that mandates retirement at age 70 was approved by the voters three-to-one in 1972. Some of those voters were 26 then, now they’re 70. Life expectancy then was 71.2 years, now it’s 78.7. There’s a constitutional amendment before the Legislature this session that would raise the retirement age to 76, but the Judiciary Committee has given it an unfavorable report.

Judges in other states where a mandatory retirement age applies have sued their states, arguing that such laws discriminate against them on the basis of age in violation of their constitutional rights.  No success so far.

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