In his own image

Choosing justices for the state’s highest court is one of the most overlooked aspects of a governor’s powers, but is one that could now impact a generation or more.

With a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges, it is usually expected that a Massachusetts governor will have the chance to make several appointments to the Supreme Judicial Court before his or her term expires. But the opportunity presented to Gov. Charlie Baker to remake the SJC in a short period of time is nearly unprecedented and could shift the court from a left-of-center majority to a more centrist, or even conservative-leaning, bench in the state that gave the country gay marriage by judicial edict.

Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly, appointed less than five years ago by then-governor Deval Patrick, announced Wednesday she will step down from the court this summer to help her husband recover from surgery. Duffly’s announcement followed that of Justices Francis X. Spina and Robert Cordy.

Spina turns 70 in the fall so his retirement was expected, but Cordy and Duffly were not on the radar.  With Justice Margot Botsford turning 70 in a little over a year and Justice Geraldine Hines reaching mandatory retirement in the fall of next year, Baker will have the opportunity to appoint five out of seven justices before his first term expires. In fact, with Justice Barbara Lenk  turning 70 in several years, only Chief Justice Ralph Gants would remain, absent his retirement or a third Baker administration term.

“A lot of the major decisions do come down to a very a close split…so the ability to appoint people that have a particular ideological point of view can change those decisions,” Jeff Morneau, president of the Hampden County Bar Association, told MassLive. “If you’re able to switch the court in terms of putting people on there with different ideological views on the Republican versus the Democratic side, it will and can make a huge difference for generations to come.”

Baker is a fiscal conservative with generally more liberal views on social issues, much like his mentors and former bosses, William Weld and Paul Cellucci. His choice of both Democrats and Republicans on his newly formed nomination committee to select SJC candidates reveals little as to what he’ll look for in choosing replacements, though he vowed to have no litmus test.

The decisions will have a domino effect, especially if Baker taps the Appeals Court or other lower courts for replacements. With a super-majority on the SJC and like-minded jurists handing up decisions from down below, Baker’s shadow could extend generations beyond his time as governor.

One of the ripple effects could be on the anachronistic but suddenly relevant Governor’s Council, which must approve judicial picks. While the current eight-member council will have the final word on the first three choices, given Baker’s intent to have new justices seated before the fall term begins, the November elections may become more interesting as the council members’ two-year terms expire.

Nomination papers are available next week, so in addition to keeping an eye on the SJC nomination process, there may suddenly be interest in what happens in the races for posts that rarely draw challenges, let alone attention.




House lawmakers bring in a Colorado police official to buttress their view that legalizing marijuana is the wrong way to go. (CommonWealth)

State officials say they will ratchet up their oversight of nursing homes in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler of Worcester proposes much heftier penalties for jaywalking. “It’s time to use the stick approach,” she said. (State House News)

The Massachusetts Senate looks to engage millennials. (WGBH)


Quincy officials have added an overhaul of the Quincy Center T station and a relocation of the District Court to the area to its billion-dollar downtown redevelopment. (Patriot Ledger)

Plymouth has filed suit against the private sewer operator Veolia North America, saying the company’s negligence caused the three recent breaks in the town’s sewer main brought on by corrosion in 15-year-old steel pipes that weren’t properly maintained. (The Enterprise)

A majority of Boston city councilors appear to back a 1 percent property tax surcharge under the Community Preservation Act. Mayor Marty Walsh is taking a wait and see stance. (Boston Herald)

Opponents of the proposed Boston IndyCar race lit into organizers for promising those attending a community meeting Tuesday night “priority access” to musical events connected to the race. (Boston Herald)

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse finds himself in the middle of a fight over “sexually threatening” Facebook posts between a city councilor and a member of the cable board. (MassLive)

Neighbors are grumbling about a paddle boat’s use of bubblers to prevent Webster Lake from freezing. (Telegram & Gazette)

Gloucester looks to boost affordable housing. (Gloucester Times)


Developers of a proposed casino in Tiverton, Rhode Island, mere yards from the Fall River line, told Ocean State lawmakers the planned $75 million facility would be viable despite the proximity of a slot parlor in Plainville and the potential casinos in Taunton and Brockton. (Herald News)


Los Angeles unveils sweeping plans to combat homelessness, with an estimated 45,000 people living on the streets. (Time)

The Department of Justice has filed a civil rights suit against Ferguson, Missouri, after city officials rejected an agreement to overhaul its police and criminal justice system to address allegations of widespread abuse aimed mostly at black residents. (New York Times)


“Oh my goodness, I’m shocked Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina dropped out of the presidential campaign,” said no one after their dismal showings in New Hampshire. (U.S. News & World Report)

The Clinton camp begins to fret. (Boston Globe) If she were cribbing from the late Tom Menino, Joan Vennochi would say Bill Clinton has become an Alcatraz around Hillary’s neck. (Boston Globe)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial points out that Hillary Clinton didn’t do as badly on the delegate front in New Hampshire as the primary results would indicate, another reason why voters are upset with the status quo.

James Pindell explains the roots of Tuesday’s win by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the Tea Party and Occupy movements that followed the Great Recession.. (Boston Globe)

Yesterday’s Download pointed to this Alex Kingsbury piece in the Globe saying the New Hampshire outcome was good news for Michael Bloomberg and his would-be independent run for president. Today, the cold water, as Michael Cohen doubts in a Globe op-ed that Bloomberg will run, and Yvonne Abraham says he shouldn’t.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin thinks a surge of voters registering under the banner of the United Independent Party, headed by 2014 gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk, may have done so mistakenly and intended to register as independents. (WGBH, Boston Globe)


Pfizer seeks tax breaks in Andover for a planned expansion. (Eagle-Tribune)

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen told Congress the Fed may slow planned interest rate increases because of concerns over a weakening global economy. (New York Times)

General Electric is postponing until April what had been planned as a February 18 briefing to announce more details of its headquarters move to Boston. (Boston Globe)


The Herald’s Joe Battenfeld says the PR firm Regan Communications may fight its firing by Suffolk University.

Boston Latin School head master Lynne Mooney Teta is facing criticism — and drawing support — in the wake of charges that the school has been insensitive to racially-charged comments by students on social media. (Boston Globe)

Dr. Paula Johnson, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital internist, will be the next president of Wellesley College and its first African-American leader. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth did a One-on-One interview with her in January 2014.


The MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board takes a cautious approach on privatizing transit operations. (CommonWealth)

With turnout sparse at hearings on proposed T fare hikes, Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board, says he believes the underlying arguments for a fare increase remain valid. (CommonWealth)

The T oversight board awards a contract to repair the Beverly-Salem bridge. (Salem News)

The T’s chief administrator said the authority will resume including a detailed analysis in its annual financial audit that had been omitted for the last seven years. (Boston Globe)


A security worker at the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth has been fired after officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined he falsified reports to cover up missing more than 200 assigned fire checks over a two-year period. (Cape Cod Times)

Exelon Corp. looks to sell the power plant on Summer Street in South Boston. (Boston Globe)


A 38-year-old mother of four who worked part time in the Weymouth middle school cafeteria was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to rape charges for having sex with a 15-year-old boy during two holiday parties at his home. (Patriot Ledger)

A man who has spent the last 30 years in prison after being convicted of raping a 78-year-old Springfield woman based on a single hair found at the scene has been freed on bail after a judge determined testimony from an FBI agent about the evidence was faulty. (Associated Press)

The city of Cleveland files a $500 claim for emergency medical services against the estate of Tamir Rice. Rice was the 12-year-old boy shot by Cleveland police officers. (Cleveland Scene)


Scientists have confirmed the presence of gravitational waves, more than a century after Einstein postulated their existence as part of his General Theory of Relativity. (New York Times)


The Globe’s Walter Robinson talks about Spotlight and the future of investigative reporting. (Shorenstein Center)