Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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][nb 1]

Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusetts
LocationBoston, Massachusetts
Composition methodExecutive appointments with quasi-legislative consent
Authorized byMassachusetts Constitution
Appeals toSupreme Court of the United States
Number of positions7
WebsiteOfficial website
Chief Justice
CurrentlyRalph Gants
SinceJuly 28, 2014
Lead position ends2024

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

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

  • 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.
  • Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren (2016) – The Court overturned the conviction of Jimmy Warren, a black man arrested by the Boston Police Department in 2011. According to the police, Warren's appearance resembled that of the description of a man BPD were searching for in connection with a burglary. When confronted by police, Warren ran away; when police eventually caught up to him, he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. This case is notable because, according to news reporting, the court holds[7] that "it was within Warren’s legal rights to run from the police and, furthermore, the act of running away from the police does not imply guilt and is not grounds for arrest."[8] The same news report identifies this case as an example of the SJC recognizing the systemic effects of racism in Massachusetts.


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

The currently serving justices are:

JusticeBegan active
Reaches age 70
Ralph Gants2009 (Assoc.)
2014 (Chief)
Deval Patrick (both) 2024
Barbara Lenk2011[9]Deval Patrick 2020
Frank Gaziano2016Charlie Baker 2034
David A. Lowy2016Charlie Baker 2031
Kimberly S. Budd2016Charlie Baker 2036
Elspeth B. Cypher2017 [10]Charlie Baker 2029
Scott L. Kafker2017Charlie Baker 2029

Notable members

List of Chief Justices

#Chief JusticeTook officeLeft officeAppointed byNotes
1William Stoughton16921701Sir William PhipsDied in office.
2Wait Winthrop17011701Governor's CouncilResigned.
3Isaac Addington17021703Joseph DudleyResigned.
4Wait Winthrop17081717Joseph DudleyDied in office.
5Samuel Sewall17181728Samuel ShuteResigned.
6Benjamin Lynde Sr.17291745William BurnetDied in office.
7Paul Dudley17451751William ShirleyDied in office.
8Stephen Sewall17521760William ShirleyDied in office.
9Thomas Hutchinson17611769Francis BernardResigned.
10Benjamin Lynde Jr.17691771Thomas HutchinsonResigned.
11Peter Oliver17721775Thomas HutchinsonForced out by the revolution.
12John Adams17751776Governor's CouncilAdams accepted the appointment for political reasons, but never sat on the court and eventually resigned.
13William Cushing17771789Governor's CouncilResigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
14Nathaniel Peaslee Sargent17901791John HancockDied in office.
15Francis Dana17911806John HancockResigned.
16Theophilus Parsons18061813Caleb StrongDied in office.
17Samuel Sewall18141814Caleb StrongDied in office.
18Isaac Parker18141830Caleb StrongDied in office.
19Lemuel Shaw18301860Levi Lincoln Jr.Resigned.
20George Tyler Bigelow18601867Nathaniel Prentice BanksResigned.
21Reuben Atwater Chapman18681873Alexander H. BullockDied in office.
22Horace Gray18731882William B. WashburnResigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
23Marcus Morton18821890John D. LongResigned.
24Walbridge A. Field18901899John Q. A. BrackettDied in office.
25Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.18991902Roger WolcottResigned upon appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
26Marcus Perrin Knowlton19021911Winthrop M. CraneResigned.
27Arthur Prentice Rugg19111938Eugene FossDied in office.
28Fred Tarbell Field19381947Charles F. HurleyResigned.
29Stanley Elroy Qua19471956Robert F. BradfordResigned.
30Raymond Sanger Wilkins19561970Christian HerterResigned.
31G. Joseph Tauro19701976Francis W. SargentResigned.
32Edward F. Hennessey19761989Michael DukakisResigned.
33Paul J. Liacos19891996Michael DukakisResigned.
34Herbert P. Wilkins19961999William WeldResigned.
35Margaret H. Marshall19992010Paul CellucciResigned.
36Roderick L. Ireland20102014Deval PatrickResigned.
37Ralph Gants2014incumbentDeval Patrick

Associate justices appointed by royal governors (1692–1775)

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.

JusticeBegan active
Ended active
Thomas Danforth16921699Sir William PhipsDied in office.
Wait Winthrop16921701Sir William PhipsPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1702. Winthrop rejoined the court as chief justice in 1708, and died while holding that office in 1717.
John Richards16921694Sir William PhipsDied in office.
Samuel Sewall16921718Sir William PhipsPromoted to chief justice; resigned 1728.
Elisha Cooke Sr.16951702William StoughtonDied in office.
John Walley17001712William StoughtonDied in office.
John Saffin17011702Governor's CouncilAppointment not renewed upon the accession of Queen Anne.
John Hathorne17021712Joseph DudleyResigned.
John Leverett17021708Joseph DudleyResigned.
Jonathan Curwin17081715Joseph DudleyAppointment not renewed upon the accession of King George I.
Benjamin Lynde Sr.17121729Joseph DudleyPromoted to chief justice; died in office, 1745.
Nathaniel Thomas17121718Joseph DudleyDied in office.
Addington Davenport17151736Died in office.
Edmund Quincy17181737Samuel ShuteResigned.
Paul Dudley17181745Samuel ShutePromoted to chief justice; died in office, 1751.
John Cushing17281733William BurnetResigned.
Jonathan Remington17331745Jonathan BelcherDied in office.
Richard Saltonstall17361756Jonathan BelcherResigned.
Thomas Graves17371738Jonathan BelcherResigned.
Stephen Sewall17391752Jonathan BelcherPromoted to chief justice; died in office, 1760.
Nathaniel Hubbard17451746William Shirley
Benjamin Lynde Jr.17471769William ShirleyPromoted to chief justice; resigned, 1771.
John Cushing Jr.17471771William ShirleyResigned.
Chambers Russell17521766Spencer PhipsDied in office.
Peter Oliver17561772William ShirleyPromoted to chief justice; forced out during revolution, 1775.
Edmund Trowbridge17671775Francis BernardForced out during revolution.
Foster Hutchinson (judge)17711775Thomas HutchinsonForced out during revolution.
Nathaniel Ropes17721774Thomas HutchinsonDied in office.
William Cushing17721777Thomas HutchinsonSurvived reorganization of the court, 1775; promoted to chief justice, 1777; resigned upon appointment to United States Supreme Court, 1789.
William Brown17741775Thomas HutchinsonBrown'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)

JusticeBegan active
Ended active
John Adams17751776Adams never sat with the court, and resigned in 1776.
Nathaniel Sargent17751791Appointed chief justice by John Hancock in 1790.
William Reed1775RefusedReed refused the appointment.
Robert Treat Paine1776RefusedPaine refused the appointment.
James Warren1776RefusedWarren refused the appointment.
Jedediah Foster17761779Died in office.
James Sullivan17761807Resigned to become governor.
David Sewall17771789Resigned to become judge of the United States District Court for Maine.

Associate justices appointed under the state constitution (1780–present)

JusticeBegan active
Ended active
Ruth Abrams19782000Michael Dukakis
William Allen18811891John Davis LongDied in office.
Charles Allen18821898John Davis LongResigned.
Seth Ames18691881William ClaflinResigned.
James Barker18911905William E. RussellDied in office.
George Tyler Bigelow18501860George N. BriggsPromoted to chief justice.
Margot Botsford20072017Deval Patrick
Theophilus Bradbury17971803Increase SumnerRemoved due to physical infirmity.
Henry Braley19021929Winthrop M. CraneDied in office.
Robert Braucher19711981Francis W. Sargent
Kimberly S. Budd2016incumbentCharlie Baker
James Carroll19151932David I. WalshDied in office.
Reuben Atwater Chapman18601868Nathaniel Prentice BanksPromoted to chief justice.
Waldo Colburn18821885John Davis LongDied in office.
James Colt18651866John Albion AndrewResigned.
James Colt18681881Alexander H. BullockDied in office.
Robert J. Cordy20012016Paul Cellucci
Edward Counihan19491960Paul A. Dever
Judith A. Cowin19992011Paul CellucciResigned.
Louis Cox19371944Charles F. Hurley
John C. Crosby19141937David I. WalshResigned.
Caleb Cushing18521853George S. BoutwellResigned to become United States Attorney General.
Nathan Cushing17901800John HancockResigned.
R. Ammi Cutter19561972Christian Herter
Francis Dana17851806John HancockPromoted to chief justice.
Thomas Dawes17921802John HancockResigned.
Charles Decourcy19111924Eugene FossDied in office.
Charles Devens18731877William B. WashburnResigned to become United States Attorney General.
Charles Devens18811891
John Davis LongSecond appointment; died in office.
Daniel Dewey18141815Caleb StrongDied in office.
Charles Augustus Dewey18371866Edward EverettDied in office.
Arthur Dolan19371949Charles F. Hurley
Charles Donahue19321944Joseph B. Ely
Fernande R.V. Duffly20112016Deval Patrick
William Endicott18731882William B. WashburnResigned.
Fred T. Field19291938Frank G. AllenPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1947.
Walbridge A. Field18811890John Davis LongPromoted to chief justice.
Richard Fletcher18481853George N. BriggsResigned.
Charles Forbes18481848George N. BriggsResigned.
Dwight Foster18661869Alexander H. BullockResigned.
Charles Fried19951999William WeldResigned.
Ralph D. Gants20092014Deval PatrickPromoted to chief justice (incumbent)
William Gardner18851887George D. RobinsonResigned.
Frank Gaziano2016incumbentCharlie Baker
Horace Gray18641873John Albion AndrewPromoted to chief justice.
John M. Greaney19892008Michael DukakisResigned.
John Hammond18981914Roger WolcottResigned.
Edward F. Hennessey19711976Francis W. SargentPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1989.
Geraldine Hines20142017Deval Patrick
Ebenezer R. Hoar18591869Nathaniel Prentice BanksResigned to become United States Attorney General.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.18821899John Davis LongPromoted to chief justice.
Samuel Hubbard18421847John DavisDied in office.
Roderick L. Ireland19972010William WeldPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 2014.
Charles Jackson18131823Caleb StrongResigned.
Charles Jenney19191923Calvin CoolidgeDied in office.
Benjamin Kaplan19721981Francis W. SargentResigned.
Paul G. Kirk Sr.19601971Foster Furcolo
Marcus Perrin Knowlton18871902Oliver AmesPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1911.
John Lathrop18911906William RussellResigned.
Barbara Lenk2011incumbentDeval Patrick
Paul J. Liacos19761989Michael DukakisPromoted to chief justice.
Levi Lincoln Jr.18241825William EustisResigned to become governor.
Otis Lord18751882William GastonResigned.
William Loring18991919Roger WolcottResigned.
David A. Lowy2016incumbentCharlie Baker
Henry Lummus19321955Joseph B. Ely
Neil L. Lynch19812000Edward J. King
Margaret H. Marshall19961999William WeldPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 2010.
Pliny Merrick18531864John H. CliffordResigned.
Theron Metcalf18481865George N. BriggsResigned.
Marcus Morton18251840Levi Lincoln Jr.Resigned to become governor.
Marcus Morton Jr.18691882William ClaflinPromoted to chief justice.
James Morton18901913John Q. A. BrackettResigned.
Joseph R. Nolan19811995Edward J. King
Robert Treat Paine17901804John HancockResigned.
Isaac Parker18061814Caleb StrongPromoted to chief justice; died in office.
Francis Patrick O'Connor19811997Edward J. KingResigned.
Edward Pierce19141937David I. WalshResigned.
Samuel Putnam18141842Caleb StrongResigned.
Stanley Elroy Qua19341947Joseph B. ElyPromoted to chief justice; resigned 1956.
Francis Quirico19691981Francis W. Sargent
Paul Reardon19621977John A. Volpe
James Ronan19381960Charles F. Hurley
Arthur Rugg19061911Curtis Guild Jr.Promoted to chief justice; died in office.
George Sanderson19241932Channing H. CoxDied in office.
Theodore Sedgwick18021813Caleb StrongDied in office.
Samuel Sewall18001814Caleb StrongPromoted to chief justice; died shortly afterward.
Henry Sheldon19051915William Lewis DouglasResigned.
Martha B. Sosman20002007Paul CellucciDied in office.
Augustus Lord Soule18771881Alexander H. RiceResigned.
John Spalding19441971Leverett Saltonstall
Jacob Spiegel19601972Foster Furcolo
Francis X. Spina19992016Paul Cellucci
Simeon Strong18011805Caleb StrongDied in office.
Increase Sumner17821797John HancockResigned to become governor.
G. Joseph Tauro19701976Francis W. Sargent
George Thatcher18011824Caleb StrongResigned.
Benjamin Thomas18531859John H. CliffordResigned.
William Wait19231934Channing H. CoxResigned.
John Wells18661875Alexander H. BullockDied in office.
Arthur Whittemore19551969Christian Herter
Samuel Wilde18151850Caleb StrongResigned.
Herbert P. Wilkins19721996Francis W. SargentPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1999.
Raymond Wilkins19441956Leverett SaltonstallPromoted to chief justice; resigned in 1970.
Harold P. Williams19471962Robert F. Bradford


  1. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disputes this, claiming to be eight years older.[3]


  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. Gants (September 20, 2016). "Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren" (475 Mass. 530). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. Bianco, Marcie. "An American court has set a huge precedent for Black Lives Matter activists". Quartz. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  9. Levenson, Michael (May 4, 2011). "Lenk approved for SJC; first openly gay justice on state's highest court". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  10. "Justice Margot Botsford retires from SJC – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 7 July 2017.

Works cited

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