Decision means Patrick will name new judge and chief during reelection fight
Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, stunned the worlds of law and politics by announcing that she plans to retire no later than the end of October to spend more time with her ailing husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.
Her decision to retire four years before the mandatory retirement age of 70 means Gov. Deval Patrick, in the midst of a reelection fight, will have the opportunity to appoint a new justice to the state’s top court and select its chief. In a letter to Patrick, Marshall said she would retire upon the confirmation of her successor or by the end of October, whichever is sooner.
Marshall informed her SJC colleagues of her plans this morning and also notified staff and a number of friends. Many of them filed into a cavernous conference room at the John Adams Courthouse to hear her read in a faint voice a four-page statement (with a footnote) and patiently answer questions from reporters.
The chief justice grew up in South Africa and came to the United States in the late 1960s. After attending Yale Law School, she worked at two law firms in Boston before taking the job of vice president and general counsel at Harvard University from 1992 to 1996. Former Republican Gov. William Weld appointed her to the SJC in 1996 and Weld’s successor, former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, named her the court’s first female chief justice three years later.
Marshall is perhaps best known for her 2003 opinion in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, where the court ruled 4-3 that the state cannot deny the benefits and obligations of marriage to individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.
Robert Cordy, a fellow justice and one of the three dissenters in the Goodridge case, attended Marshall’s goodbye announcement and confided afterward that he understood her decision but said it still was a “bit of a shock.”
“Where we go from here without her will be a big challenge,” he said.In a lengthy interview in CommonWealth’s winter issue, Marshall talked about the budgetary challenges facing the Massachusetts court system and her career at the court. She said technology improvements had made it possible to know precisely where the courts are overstaffed and understaffed, but she seemed unaware of brewing problems at the state’s probation system, which is part of the judiciary. In May, responding to news reports about patronage abuses at probation, Marshall and her fellow justices placed the agency’s commissioner on paid leave and appointed an independent counsel to investigate.
At today’s retirement announcement, Marshall said two of the biggest challenges facing the courts are expanding the use of technology in the face of budget cuts and implementing systems to help the growing number of individuals representing themselves in court.