Western Mass. lawmakers lobby governor for SJC pick from region

Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2020 6:59:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — No members of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court are from western Massachusetts. But as Gov. Charlie Baker gears up to choose two new justices, lawmakers in the region are advocating for that to change.

Eighteen legislators from Hampshire, Hampden, Berkshire and Franklin counties signed on to a letter sent to Baker on Monday asking that at least one nominee be from the western part of the state.

“It is crucial to our constituents, and to all Massachusetts residents, that our highest judicial body fairly represent the entire citizenry of our Commonwealth,” the letter states.

Baker will appoint two justices, as Chief Justice Ralph Gants died this month, and Justice Barbara Lenk is retiring later this year. After those two appointments, Baker will have appointed all members of the seven-member court.

That’s a “rare opportunity,” said state Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, who signed the letter. “We wanted to make sure that western Massachusetts was on his radar and being given fair consideration.”

Justices make decisions that affect western Massachusetts, Carey said, and it’s important to have the voice of someone who understands the region.

“Justices arrive at their own decisions with the law at the forefront,” state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said. “But, also, they’re informed by their own perspectives, their viewpoints, their own backgrounds, and we just felt like it was really important in the name of regional equity to be able to get someone with deep western Massachusetts perspective to be part of that body.”

Western Massachusetts legislators are often advocating for the region’s representation in Boston. “The perspectives of the majority of those in power are eastern focused,” Comerford said.

In the past, there have been justices from the western region. Former Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, who retired in 2014, hailed from Springfield.

There also have been calls to make the court more diverse when it comes to race and gender. Justice Kimberly Budd, a Black woman, is the only person of color on the bench, and she is one of two women on the court.

Comerford and Carey agree gender and racial diversity is important, too.

“I will say, I think that throughout all the branches of government, we need to have that — especially race and ethnicity — as a clarion call,” said Comerford, who has been struck by how much media attention the open seats have gotten.

“I think it speaks to how many eyes are on the importance of who sits on the courts,” she said. “I actually think that’s a very positive development for us all — to recognize that who gets appointed to these benches matters, and we should be invested in them and who they are and making our voices heard.”

Other area legislators who signed on to the letter include Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa, Aaron Vega, Mindy Domb, Natalie Blais, and Sens. Eric Lesser, John Velis and Adam Hinds.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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