Baker nominates Kimberly Budd as chief justice

She would become first black woman to head SJC

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday nominated Associate Justice Kimberly S. Budd, the only person of color on the Supreme Judicial Court, to become chief justice — the highest judicial position in the state.

If confirmed, Budd would become the first black woman to lead the court in its 328-year history, and only the second black chief justice, after Roderick L. Ireland. She is the third African American to serve as a justice on the SJC. At 54, she would also be the state’s youngest chief justice in 150 years.

Budd was nominated to the court by Baker in 2016 after Justice Fernande Duffly’s retirement. She is one of three women on the seven-member court, along with Elspeth Cypher and Barbara Lenk.

“The idea that I would be the first black female chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court is a little overwhelming, and it’s very meaningful to me,” said Budd at a press conference where Baker announced her nomination. “But the idea of just being the chief of the Supreme Judicial Court is more overwhelming to me.”

Baker praised Budd for her willingness to listen. “Great listeners, and Kim Budd is a great listener, give people the sense that their views, their ideas, that they matter. More than anything at this particular time, this court needs to be led by someone who listens,” Baker said.

Budd would replace the late chief justice Ralph Gants, who is praised as a champion of equal justice for all and commissioned a report about racial disparities in the criminal justice system that was released just a week before his death.

Budd must be approved by the Governor’s Council. The council plans to discuss her nomination on November 12 or 13 and vote on November 18.

“I could not imagine being more thrilled about any nomination,” said Governor’s Council member Terrence Kennedy in a phone interview. “I’m also pleased the governor made this historic nomination of the first African American woman to lead the courts of the Commonwealth in these especially trying times.”

A swift decision on who would fill the role is particularly important because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, said Kennedy.

Fellow Governor’s Council member Eileen Duff called Budd’s nomination “a fantastic choice,” on Twitter.

Budd comes from a family of leaders who have broken barriers. Her grandfather, Joseph Budd, was the first African American police officer in Springfield and her father, Wayne Budd, was the first black man to serve as US attorney in the state. He also co-founded what would become the nation’s largest minority law firm – Budd, Wiley, and Richlin.

Kimberly Budd was named to the Superior Court in 2009 by then-Democratic governor Deval Patrick and named to the SJC in 2016. At the time, she said paid homage to the state’s racial history.

“It was really great to be in Faneuil Hall, a place where there were slave auctions, and to be up there with retired chief justice Roderick Ireland and retired associate justice Geraldine Hines, who spoke for me, the first two African Americans on the SJC,” she told NBC10 Boston.

Budd graduated from Georgetown University in 1988 and Harvard Law School in 1991. At Harvard, she was classmates with Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.

She began her legal career as a law clerk to Chief Justice Joseph P. Warner of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. She then worked as an associate at the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo.

Budd later worked as an attorney in the general counsel’s office at Harvard University, and as a prosecutor in the US attorney’s office.

“We’re so pleased, proud, and excited,” said Tom Reilly, Budd’s godfather and the former attorney general of Massachusetts. Reilly, who said he’s known Budd since the day after she was born, recounted watching her grow up at Peabody High School, and later move on to Georgetown and Harvard Law School.

“Every step of the way she outworked folks. Now she’s reached the pinnacle of her career professionally–and she’s also a wonderful mother and balances both,” he said. Reilly said he talked to Budd’s father today and to Kimberly Budd on Tuesday, and described her attitude toward the nomination as “humbled.”

To him, the most telling thing about Budd’s character is what he hears from officials at the court house, where he still represents clients as a trial attorney.

“I don’t even think people know I’m her godfather,” he said. “Court officers, clerks, people who work there just rave about how nice she is, and how much respect she shows them, even outside the court.”

Carol Rose, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, praised the “historic” nomination.

“Our courts—particularly the Supreme Judicial Court—often serve as the critical line of defense of our constitutional rights, with decisions that can expand and contract our fundamental freedoms,” she said in a statement. “But the role of chief justice goes beyond the court’s opinions. Representation matters; the courts serve the whole population, and the judiciary should reflect the range of lived experiences and backgrounds that come before it.”

Earlier this year, Budd wrote a lengthy concurring opinion in Commonwealth v Long, a case in which the Supreme Judicial Court lowered the burden of proof defendants must provide to prove they are the victims of illegal racial profiling during a traffic stops.

Budd said the court did not go far enough to root out systemic racism. She also took note of a June 20 letter the SJC sent to members of the judiciary and the bar calling for African Americans to receive the same level of justice as white Americans.

“It is worth reiterating, however, that systemic or institutional racism produces racially disparate outcomes regardless of the intent of the people who work within the institution,” Budd wrote. “Our current state of affairs is not what any one of the Justices who comprise this court chose or would choose. It nevertheless is a painful fact.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Budd said she is trying to steer clear of politics. She noted she is an unenrolled voter, and Baker stepped back to the mic on Wednesday to tell reporters that he had not discussed any case currently in front of the SJC with Budd, and “never would.”

Baker must also appoint a replacement for Lenk, the court’s first openly lesbian justice, who is leaving the court on December 1 after hitting the mandatory retirement age of 70.