Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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Coordinates: 42°21′33″N 71°03′39″W / 42.359297°N 71.060954°W / 42.359297; -71.060954

Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.png
Established 1692
Country United States United States
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Composition method Executive appointments with quasi-legislative consent
Authorized by Massachusetts Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
Website Official website
Chief Justice
Currently Ralph Gants
Since July 28, 2014
Lead position ends 2024
John Adams Courthouse, home to the SJC

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SJC claims the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Americas,[1] 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.[2] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disputes this, claiming to be eight years older.[3]

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.

Location and citation[edit]

The SJC sits at the John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, Massachusetts 02108, which also houses the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the Social Law Library. The proper legal citation for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is "Mass."

Landmark cases[edit]

  • Rex v. Preston (1770) – Captain Thomas Preston, the Officer of the Day during the Boston Massacre, was acquitted when the jury was unable to determine whether he had ordered the troops to fire. The defense counsel in the case was a young attorney named John Adams, later the second President of the United States.[4]
  • Rex v. Wemms, et al. (1770) – Six soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre were found not guilty, and two more – the only two proven to have fired – were found guilty of manslaughter.[5]
  • Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison (1783) – The Court declared slavery unconstitutional 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..."[6] 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.
  • Roberts v. Boston (1850) – The Court established the "separate but equal" doctrine that would later be used in Plessy v. Ferguson by maintaining that the law gave school boards complete authority in assigning students to schools and that they could do so along racial lines if they deemed it appropriate.
  • 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.


The Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts with the consent of the Governor's Council. The Justices hold office until the mandatory retirement age of seventy, like all other Massachusetts judges.

Current composition[edit]

The currently serving justices are:

Justice Began active
Reaches age 70
Gants, RalphRalph Gants 2009 (Assoc.)
2014 (Chief)
Deval Patrick (both) 2024
Lenk, BarbaraBarbara Lenk 2011[7] Deval Patrick 2020
Gaziano, Frank M.Frank M. Gaziano 2016 Charlie Baker 2034
Lowy, David A.David A. Lowy 2016 Charlie Baker 2031
Budd, Kimberly S.Kimberly S. Budd 2016 Charlie Baker 2036
Cypher, Elspeth B.Elspeth B. Cypher 2017 [8] Charlie Baker 2029
Kafker, Scott L.Scott L. Kafker 2017 Charlie Baker 2029

Notable members[edit]

List of Chief Justices[edit]

# Chief Justice Took office Left office Appointed by Notes
1 William Stoughton 1692 1701 Sir William Phips Died in office.
2 Wait Winthrop 1701 1701 Governor's Council Resigned.
3 Isaac Addington 1702 1703 Joseph Dudley Resigned.
4 Wait Winthrop 1708 1717 Joseph Dudley Died in office.
5 Samuel Sewall 1718 1728 Samuel Shute Resigned.
6 Benjamin Lynde, Sr. 1729 1745 William Burnet Died in office.
7 Paul Dudley 1745 1751 William Shirley Died in office.
8 Stephen Sewall 1752 1760 William Shirley Died in office.
9 Thomas Hutchinson 1761 1769 Francis Bernard Resigned.
10 Benjamin Lynde, Jr. 1769 1771 Thomas Hutchinson Resigned.
11 Peter Oliver 1772 1775 Thomas Hutchinson Forced out by the revolution.
12 John Adams 1775 1776 Governor's Council Adams accepted the appointment for political reasons, but never sat on the court and eventually resigned.
13 William Cushing 1777 1789 Governor's Council Resigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
14 Nathaniel Peaslee Sargent 1790 1791 John Hancock Died in office.
15 Francis Dana 1791 1806 John Hancock Resigned.
16 Theophilus Parsons 1806 1813 Caleb Strong Died in office.
17 Samuel Sewall 1814 1814 Caleb Strong Died in office.
18 Isaac Parker 1814 1830 Caleb Strong Died in office.
19 Lemuel Shaw 1830 1860 Levi Lincoln, Jr. Resigned.
20 George Tyler Bigelow 1860 1867 Nathaniel Prentice Banks Resigned.
21 Reuben Atwater Chapman 1868 1873 Alexander H. Bullock Died in office.
22 Horace Gray 1873 1882 William B. Washburn Resigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
23 Marcus Morton 1882 1890 John D. Long Resigned.
24 Walbridge A. Field 1890 1899 John Q. A. Brackett Died in office.
25 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1899 1902 Roger Wolcott Resigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
26 Marcus Perrin Knowlton 1902 1911 Winthrop M. Crane Resigned.
27 Arthur Prentice Rugg 1911 1938 Eugene Foss Died in office.
28 Fred Tarbell Field 1938 1947 Charles F. Hurley Resigned.
29 Stanley Elroy Qua 1947 1956 Robert F. Bradford Resigned.
30 Raymond Sanger Wilkins 1956 1970 Christian Herter Resigned.
31 G. Joseph Tauro 1970 1976 Francis W. Sargent Resigned.
32 Edward F. Hennessey 1976 1989 Michael Dukakis Resigned.
33 Paul J. Liacos 1989 1996 Michael Dukakis Resigned.
34 Herbert P. Wilkins 1996 1999 William Weld Resigned.
35 Margaret H. Marshall 1999 2010 Paul Cellucci Resigned.
36 Roderick L. Ireland 2010 2014 Deval Patrick Resigned.
37 Ralph Gants 2014 incumbent Deval Patrick

Associate justices appointed by royal governors (1692–1775)[edit]

All judges appointed before 1695 were reappointed in that year (except John Richards, who had died) because the legislation creating the court was vetoed in that year by the Privy Council. Several further attempts to legislate the court's existence were vetoed, and it was not until 1699 that the provincial assembly enacted laws creating courts that satisfied the Privy Council.

Justice Began active
Ended active
Danforth, ThomasThomas Danforth 1692 1699 Sir William Phips Died in office.
Winthrop, WaitWait Winthrop 1692 1701 Sir William Phips Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1702. Winthrop rejoined the court as chief justice in 1708, and died while holding that office in 1717.
Richards, JohnJohn Richards 1692 1694 Sir William Phips Died in office.
Sewall, SamuelSamuel Sewall 1692 1718 Sir William Phips Promoted to chief justice; resigned 1728.
Cooke, Sr., ElishaElisha Cooke, Sr. 1695 1702 William Stoughton Died in office.
Walley, JohnJohn Walley 1700 1712 William Stoughton Died in office.
Saffin, JohnJohn Saffin 1701 1702 Governor's Council Appointment not renewed upon the accession of Queen Anne.
Hathorne, JohnJohn Hathorne 1702 1712 Joseph Dudley Resigned.
Leverett, JohnJohn Leverett 1702 1708 Joseph Dudley Resigned.
Curwin, JonathanJonathan Curwin 1708 1715 Joseph Dudley Appointment not renewed upon the accession of King George I.
Lynde, Sr., BenjaminBenjamin Lynde, Sr. 1712 1729 Joseph Dudley Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1745.
Thomas, NathanielNathaniel Thomas 1712 1718 Joseph Dudley Died in office.
Davenport, AddingtonAddington Davenport 1715 1736 Died in office.
Quincy, EdmundEdmund Quincy 1718 1737 Samuel Shute Resigned.
Dudley, PaulPaul Dudley 1718 1745 Samuel Shute Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1751.
Cushing, JohnJohn Cushing 1728 1733 William Burnet Resigned.
Remington, JonathanJonathan Remington 1733 1745 Jonathan Belcher Died in office.
Saltonstall, RichardRichard Saltonstall 1736 1756 Jonathan Belcher Resigned.
Graves, ThomasThomas Graves 1737 1738 Jonathan Belcher Resigned.
Sewall, StephenStephen Sewall 1739 1752 Jonathan Belcher Promoted to chief justice; died in office, 1760.
Hubbard, NathanielNathaniel Hubbard 1745 1746 William Shirley
Lynde, Jr., BenjaminBenjamin Lynde, Jr. 1747 1769 William Shirley Promoted to chief justice; resigned, 1771.
Cushing, Jr., JohnJohn Cushing, Jr. 1747 1771 William Shirley Resigned.
Russell, ChambersChambers Russell 1752 1766 Spencer Phips Died in office.
Oliver, PeterPeter Oliver 1756 1772 William Shirley Promoted to chief justice; forced out during revolution, 1775.
Trowbridge, EdmundEdmund Trowbridge 1767 1775 Francis Bernard Forced out during revolution.
Hutchinson, FosterFoster Hutchinson 1771 1775 Thomas Hutchinson Forced out during revolution.
Ropes, NathanielNathaniel Ropes 1772 1774 Thomas Hutchinson Died in office.
Cushing, WilliamWilliam Cushing 1772 1777 Thomas Hutchinson Survived reorganization of the court, 1775; promoted to chief justice, 1777; resigned upon appointment to United States Supreme Court, 1789.
Brown, WilliamWilliam Brown 1774 1775 Thomas Hutchinson Brown's appointment was approved during the tenure of Governor Thomas Gage, but was made by Hutchinson. Brown was forced out during the revolution.

Justices appointed by the Provincial Congress (1775–1780)[edit]

Justice Began active
Ended active
Adams, JohnJohn Adams 1775 1776 Adams never sat with the court, and resigned in 1776.
Sargent, NathanielNathaniel Sargent 1775 1791 Appointed chief justice by John Hancock in 1790.
Reed, WilliamWilliam Reed 1775 Refused Reed refused the appointment.
Paine, Robert TreatRobert Treat Paine 1776 Refused Paine refused the appointment.
Warren, JamesJames Warren 1776 Refused Warren refused the appointment.
Foster, JedediahJedediah Foster 1776 1779 Died in office.
Sullivan, JamesJames Sullivan 1776 1807 Resigned to become governor.
Sewall, DavidDavid Sewall 1777 1789 Resigned to become judge of the United States District Court for Maine.

Associate justices appointed under the state constitution (1780-present)[edit]

Justice Began active
Ended active
Abrams, RuthRuth Abrams 1978 2000 Michael Dukakis
Allen, WilliamWilliam Allen 1881 1891 John Davis Long Died in office.
Allen, CharlesCharles Allen 1882 1898 John Davis Long Resigned.
Ames, SethSeth Ames 1869 1881 William Claflin Resigned.
Barker, JamesJames Barker 1891 1905 William E. Russell Died in office.
Bigelow, George TylerGeorge Tyler Bigelow 1850 1860 George N. Briggs Promoted to chief justice.
Botsford, MargotMargot Botsford 2007 incumbent Deval Patrick
Bradbury, TheophilusTheophilus Bradbury 1797 1803 Increase Sumner Removed due to physical infirmity.
Braley, HenryHenry Braley 1902 1929 Winthrop M. Crane Died in office.
Braucher, RobertRobert Braucher 1971 1981 Francis W. Sargent
Budd, KimberlyKimberly Budd 2016 incumbent Charlie Baker
Carroll, JamesJames Carroll 1915 1932 David I. Walsh Died in office.
Chapman, Reuben AtwaterReuben Atwater Chapman 1860 1868 Nathaniel Prentice Banks Promoted to chief justice.
Colburn, WaldoWaldo Colburn 1882 1885 John Davis Long Died in office.
Colt, JamesJames Colt 1865 1866 John Albion Andrew Resigned.
Colt, JamesJames Colt 1868 1881 Alexander H. Bullock Died in office.
Cordy, Robert J.Robert J. Cordy 2001 2016 Paul Cellucci
Counihan, EdwardEdward Counihan 1949 1960 Paul A. Dever
Cowin, Judith A.Judith A. Cowin 1999 2011 Paul Cellucci Resigned.
Cox, LouisLouis Cox 1937 1944 Charles F. Hurley
Crosby, John C.John C. Crosby 1914 1937 David I. Walsh Resigned.
Cushing, CalebCaleb Cushing 1852 1853 George S. Boutwell Resigned to become United States Attorney General.
Cushing, NathanNathan Cushing 1790 1800 John Hancock Resigned.
Cutter, R. AmmiR. Ammi Cutter 1956 1972 Christian Herter
Dana, FrancisFrancis Dana 1785 1806 John Hancock Promoted to chief justice.
Dawes, ThomasThomas Dawes 1792 1802 John Hancock Resigned.
Decourcy, CharlesCharles Decourcy 1911 1924 Eugene Foss Died in office.
Devens, CharlesCharles Devens 1873 1877 William B. Washburn Resigned to become United States Attorney General.
Devens, CharlesCharles Devens 1881 1891
John Davis Long Second appointment; died in office.
Dewey, DanielDaniel Dewey 1814 1815 Caleb Strong Died in office.
Dolan, ArthurArthur Dolan 1937 1949 Charles F. Hurley
Donahue, CharlesCharles Donahue 1932 1944 Joseph B. Ely
Duffly, Fernande R.V.Fernande R.V. Duffly 2011 2016 Deval Patrick
Endicott, WilliamWilliam Endicott 1873 1882 William B. Washburn Resigned.
Field, Fred T.Fred T. Field 1929 1938 Frank G. Allen Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1947.
Field, Walbridge A.Walbridge A. Field 1881 1890 John Davis Long Promoted to chief justice.
Fletcher, RichardRichard Fletcher 1848 1853 George N. Briggs Resigned.
Forbes, CharlesCharles Forbes 1848 1848 George N. Briggs Resigned.
Foster, DwightDwight Foster 1866 1869 Alexander H. Bullock Resigned.
Fried, CharlesCharles Fried 1995 1999 William Weld Resigned.
Gants, Ralph D.Ralph D. Gants 2009 2014 Deval Patrick Promoted to chief justice (incumbent)
Gardner, WilliamWilliam Gardner 1885 1887 George D. Robinson Resigned.
Gaziano, FrankFrank Gaziano 2016 incumbent Charlie Baker
Gray, HoraceHorace Gray 1864 1873 John Albion Andrew Promoted to chief justice.
Greaney, John M.John M. Greaney 1989 2008 Michael Dukakis Resigned.
Hammond, JohnJohn Hammond 1898 1914 Roger Wolcott Resigned.
Hennessey, Edward F.Edward F. Hennessey 1971 1976 Francis W. Sargent Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1989.
Hines, GeraldineGeraldine Hines 2014 2017 Deval Patrick
Hoar, Ebenezer R.Ebenezer R. Hoar 1859 1869 Nathaniel Prentice Banks Resigned to become United States Attorney General.
Holmes, Jr., Oliver WendellOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1882 1899 John Davis Long Promoted to chief justice.
Hubbard, SamuelSamuel Hubbard 1842 1848 John Davis Died in office.
Ireland, Roderick L.Roderick L. Ireland 1997 2010 William Weld Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 2014.
Jackson, CharlesCharles Jackson 1813 1823 Caleb Strong Resigned.
Jenney, CharlesCharles Jenney 1919 1923 Calvin Coolidge Died in office.
Kaplan, BenjaminBenjamin Kaplan 1972 1981 Francis W. Sargent Resigned.
Kirk Sr., Paul G.Paul G. Kirk Sr. 1960 1971 Foster Furcolo
Knowlton, Marcus PerrinMarcus Perrin Knowlton 1887 1902 Oliver Ames Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1911.
Lathrop, JohnJohn Lathrop 1891 1906 William Russell Resigned.
Lenk, BarbaraBarbara Lenk 2011 incumbent Deval Patrick
Liacos, Paul J.Paul J. Liacos 1976 1989 Michael Dukakis Promoted to chief justice.
Lincoln, Jr., LeviLevi Lincoln, Jr. 1824 1825 William Eustis Resigned to become governor.
Lord, OtisOtis Lord 1875 1882 William Gaston Resigned.
Loring, WilliamWilliam Loring 1899 1919 Roger Wolcott Resigned.
Lowy, David A.David A. Lowy 2016 incumbent Charlie Baker
Lummus, HenryHenry Lummus 1932 1955 Joseph B. Ely
Lynch, Neil L.Neil L. Lynch 1981 2000 Edward J. King
Marshall, Margaret H.Margaret H. Marshall 1996 1999 William Weld Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 2010.
Merrick, PlinyPliny Merrick 1853 1864 John H. Clifford Resigned.
Metcalf, TheronTheron Metcalf 1848 1865 George N. Briggs Resigned.
Morton, MarcusMarcus Morton 1825 1840 Levi Lincoln, Jr. Resigned to become governor.
Morton, Jr., MarcusMarcus Morton, Jr. 1869 1882 William Claflin Promoted to chief justice.
Morton, JamesJames Morton 1890 1913 John Q. A. Brackett Resigned.
Nolan, Joseph R.Joseph R. Nolan 1981 1995 Edward J. King
Paine, Robert TreatRobert Treat Paine 1790 1804 John Hancock Resigned.
Parker, IsaacIsaac Parker 1806 1814 Caleb Strong Promoted to chief justice; died in office.
O'Connor, Francis PatrickFrancis Patrick O'Connor 1981 1997 Edward J. King Resigned.
Pierce, EdwardEdward Pierce 1914 1937 David I. Walsh Resigned.
Putnam, SamuelSamuel Putnam 1814 1842 Caleb Strong Resigned.
Qua, Stanley ElroyStanley Elroy Qua 1934 1947 Joseph B. Ely Promoted to chief justice; resigned 1956.
Quirico, FrancisFrancis Quirico 1969 1981 Francis W. Sargent
Reardon, PaulPaul Reardon 1962 1977 John A. Volpe
Ronan, JamesJames Ronan 1938 1960 Charles F. Hurley
Rugg, ArthurArthur Rugg 1906 1911 Curtis Guild, Jr. Promoted to chief justice; died in office.
Sanderson, GeorgeGeorge Sanderson 1924 1932 Channing H. Cox Died in office.
Sedgwick, TheodoreTheodore Sedgwick 1802 1813 Caleb Strong Died in office.
Sewall, SamuelSamuel Sewall 1800 1814 Caleb Strong Promoted to chief justice; died shortly afterward.
Sheldon, HenryHenry Sheldon 1905 1915 William Lewis Douglas Resigned.
Sosman, Martha B.Martha B. Sosman 2000 2007 Paul Cellucci Died in office.
Soule, Augustus LordAugustus Lord Soule 1877 1881 Alexander H. Rice Resigned.
Spalding, JohnJohn Spalding 1944 1971 Leverett Saltonstall
Spiegel, JacobJacob Spiegel 1960 1972 Foster Furcolo
Spina, Francis X.Francis X. Spina 1999 2016 Paul Cellucci
Strong, SimeonSimeon Strong 1801 1805 Caleb Strong Died in office.
Sumner, IncreaseIncrease Sumner 1782 1797 John Hancock Resigned to become governor.
Tauro, G. JosephG. Joseph Tauro 1970 1976 Francis W. Sargent
Thatcher, GeorgeGeorge Thatcher 1801 1824 Caleb Strong Resigned.
Thomas, BenjaminBenjamin Thomas 1853 1859 John H. Clifford Resigned.
Wait, WilliamWilliam Wait 1923 1934 Channing H. Cox Resigned.
Wells, JohnJohn Wells 1866 1875 Alexander H. Bullock Died in office.
Whittemore, ArthurArthur Whittemore 1955 1969 Christian Herter
Wilde, SamuelSamuel Wilde 1815 1850 Caleb Strong Resigned.
Wilkins, Herbert P.Herbert P. Wilkins 1972 1996 Francis W. Sargent Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1999.
Wilkins, RaymondRaymond Wilkins 1944 1956 Leverett Saltonstall Promoted to chief justice; resigned in 1970.
Williams, Harold P.Harold P. Williams 1947 1962 Robert F. Bradford


  1. ^ "Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts home page". Retrieved 2013-10-16. 
  2. ^ Eichholz, Alice (2004). Alice Eichholz, ed. Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (3rd Revised ed.). Ancestry Publishing. p. 316. ISBN 978-1593311667. 
  3. ^ "About the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania - SCOPA Review". Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  4. ^ Zobel, Hiller (1970). Boston Massacre, pp. 243–265
  5. ^ Zobel, pp. 269–286
  6. ^ Lowell, Delmar R., The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899 (p 35); Rutland VT, The Tuttle Company, 1899; ISBN 978-0-7884-1567-8.
  7. ^ Levenson, Michael (May 4, 2011). "Lenk approved for SJC; first openly gay justice on state's highest court". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 4, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Justice Margot Botsford retires from SJC - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 7 July 2017. 


External links[edit]