Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Seal of Massachusetts.svg
Seal of Massachusetts
Established 1692
Jurisdiction Massachusetts Massachusetts, United States United States
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Composition method Executive appointment with quasi-legislative consent
Authorized by Massachusetts Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
John Adams Courthouse, home to the SJC

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SJC has the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere.



The court was established in 1692 as the "Superior Court of Judicature". It was formed by order of the British Crown in response to the large number of prosecutions stemming from the Salem Witch Trials. Its name was changed to the Supreme Judicial Court after the adoption of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. In 1804 an official case reporter was created to publish the court's decisions, and the first officially reported decision was Gold v. Eddy (1804).


The seven Justices hear appeals on a broad range of criminal and civil cases between September and May.

Single Justice sessions are held each week throughout the year for certain motions pertaining to cases on trial or on appeal, bail reviews, bar discipline proceedings, petitions for admission to the bar, and a variety of other statutory proceedings. The Associate Justices sit as Single Justices each month on a rotation schedule.

The full bench renders approximately 200 written decisions each year; the single justices decide a total of approximately 600 cases annually.

In addition to its appellate functions, the SJC is responsible for the general superintendence of the judiciary and of the bar, the creation or approval of rules for the operations of all the state courts, and, in certain instances, providing advisory opinions, upon request, to the Governor and General Court on various legal issues.

The SJC also has oversight responsibility in varying degrees, according to statutes, with several affiliated agencies of the judicial branch, including the Board of Bar Overseers, the Office of Bar Counsel, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Clients' Security Board, the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors’ Committee, and Correctional Legal Services, Inc.

The SJC is sits at the John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Boston, Massachusetts 02108, which also houses the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the Social Law Library.

Landmark cases

  • 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.
  • 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..."[1] 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.


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:

Justice Began active
Ireland, Roderick L.Roderick L. Ireland 1997 (Assoc.)
2010 (Chief)
William Weld (1997)
Deval Patrick (2010)[2]
Botsford, MargotMargot Botsford 2007 Deval Patrick
Cordy, Robert J.Robert J. Cordy 2001 Paul Cellucci
Duffly, Fernande R.V.Fernande R.V. Duffly 2011[3] Deval Patrick
Gants, RalphRalph Gants 2009 Deval Patrick
Lenk, BarbaraBarbara Lenk 2011[4] Deval Patrick
Spina, Francis X.Francis X. Spina 1999 Paul Cellucci

Notable members

List of Chief Justices


# Chief Justice Took office Left office
1 John Stoughton 1692 1701
2 Wait Winthrop 1701 1701
3 Isaac Addington 1702 1703
4 Wait Winthrop 1708 1717
5 Samuel Sewall Samuel Sewall.jpg 1718 1728
6 Benjamin Lynde 1729 1745
7 Paul Dudley 1745 1751
8 Stephen Sewall 1752 1760
9 Thomas Hutchinson 1761 1769
10 Benjamin Lynde 1769 1771
11 Peter Oliver 1772 1775


# Chief Justice Took office Left office
1 John Adams Johnadamsvp.flipped.jpg 1775 1776
2 William Cushing WilliamCushing.jpg 1777 1789
3 Nathaniel Peaslee Sargent 1790 1791
4 Francis Dana Francis Dana.jpg 1791 1806
5 Theophilus Parsons Theophilus Parsons.jpg 1806 1813
6 Samuel Sewall 1814 1814
7 Isaac Parker August 24, 1814 July 25, 1830
8 Lemuel Shaw Lemuelshaw.jpg August 30, 1830 August 21, 1860
9 George Tyler Bigelow September 7, 1860 December 31, 1867
10 Reuben Atwater Chapman February 7, 1868 June 28, 1873
11 Horace Gray Horace Gray.jpg September 5, 1873 January 9, 1882
12 Marcus Morton Marcus Morton (jurist).png January 16, 1882 August 27, 1890
13 Walbridge A. Field Walbridge Abner Field.png September 4, 1890 July 15, 1899
14 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Oliver wendell holmes jr.jpg August 2, 1899 December 8, 1902
15 Marcus Perrin Knowlton Marcus Perrin Knowlton cph.3b47856.jpg December 17, 1902 September 7, 1911
16 Arthur Prentice Rugg September 20, 1911 June 12, 1938
17 Fred Tarbell Field June 30, 1938 July 24, 1947
18 Stanley Elroy Qua August 6, 1947 September 6, 1956
19 Raymond Sanger Wilkins September 13, 1956 September 1, 1970
20 G. Joseph Tauro 1970 January 10, 1976
21 Edward F. Hennessey 1976 April 19, 1989
22 Paul J. Liacos June 20, 1989 September 30, 1996
23 Herbert P. Wilkins October 1, 1996 August 31, 1999
24 Margaret H. Marshall Marshall Margaret.jpg October 14, 1999 December 19, 2010[5]
25 Roderick L. Ireland December 20, 2010 Incumbent
(faces mandatory retirement on December 3, 2014)

All members after 1800

Justice Began active
Ended active
Abrams, RuthRuth Abrams 1978 2000 Michael Dukakis
Allen, WilliamWilliam Allen 1881 1891 John Davis Long
Allen, CharlesCharles Allen 1882 1898 John D. Long
Ames, SethSeth Ames 1869 1881 William Claflin
Barker, JamesJames Barker 1891 1905 William E. Russell
Bigelow, GeorgeGeorge Bigelow 1850 1860 George N. Briggs
Botsford, MargotMargot Botsford 2007 - Deval Patrick
Braley, HenryHenry Braley 1902 1929 Winthrop M. Crane
Braucher, RobertRobert Braucher 1971 1981 Francis W. Sargent
Carroll, JamesJames Carroll 1915 1932 David I. Walsh
Chapman, ReubenReuben Chapman 1860 1866 Nathaniel Prentice Banks
Colburn, WaldoWaldo Colburn 1882 1885 John Davis Long
Colt, JamesJames Colt 1865 1881 John Albion Andrew
Cordy, Robert J.Robert J. Cordy 2001 - Paul Cellucci
Counihan, EdwardEdward Counihan 1949 1960 Paul A. Dever
Cowin, Judith A.Judith A. Cowin 1999 2011 Paul Cellucci
Cox, LouisLouis Cox 1937 1944 Charles F. Hurley
Crosby, John C.John C. Crosby 1914 1937 David I. Walsh
Cushing, CalebCaleb Cushing 1852 1853 George S. Boutwell
Cutter, R. AmmiR. Ammi Cutter 1956 1972 Christian Herter
Dana, FrancisFrancis Dana 1791 1806 John Hancock
Dawes, ThomasThomas Dawes 1792 1802 John Hancock
Decourcy, CharlesCharles Decourcy 1911 1924 Eugene Foss
Devens, CharlesCharles Devens 1873
William B. Washburn
John D. Long
Dewey, DanielDaniel Dewey 1814 1815 Caleb Strong
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 - Deval Patrick
Endicott, WilliamWilliam Endicott 1873 1882 William B. Washburn
Field, Fred T.Fred T. Field 1929 1947 Frank G. Allen, Associate/Charles F. Hurley, Chief
Field, Walbridge A.Walbridge A. Field 1881 1890 John D. Long
Fletcher, RichardRichard Fletcher 1848 1853 George N. Briggs
Forbes, CharlesCharles Forbes 1848 1848 George N. Briggs
Foster, DwightDwight Foster 1866 1869 Alexander H. Bullock
Fried, CharlesCharles Fried 1995 1999 William Weld
Gants, Ralph D.Ralph D. Gants 2009 - Deval Patrick
Gardner, WilliamWilliam Gardner 1885 1887 George D. Robinson
Gray, HoraceHorace Gray 1864 1881 John Albion Andrew
Greaney, John M.John M. Greaney 1989 2008 Michael Dukakis
Hammond, JohnJohn Hammond 1898 1914 Roger Wolcott
Hennessey, Edward F.Edward F. Hennessey 1971 1989 Francis W. Sargent, Associate/Michael Dukakis, Chief
Hoar, Ebenezer R.Ebenezer R. Hoar 1859 1869 Nathaniel Prentice Banks
Holmes, Jr., Oliver WendellOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1882 1902 John Davis Long/Associate, Roger Wolcott/Chief
Hubbard, SamuelSamuel Hubbard 1842 1848 John Davis
Ireland, Roderick L.Roderick L. Ireland 1997 - William Weld, Associate/Deval Patrick, Chief
Jackson, CharlesCharles Jackson 1813 1823 Caleb Strong
Jenney, CharlesCharles Jenney 1919 1923 Calvin Coolidge
Kaplan, BenjaminBenjamin Kaplan 1972 1981 Francis W. Sargent
Kirk, Sr., Paul G.Paul G. Kirk, Sr. 1960 1971 Foster Furcolo
Knowlton, Marcus PerrinMarcus Perrin Knowlton 1887 1902 Oliver Ames
Lathrop, JohnJohn Lathrop 1891 1906 William Russell
Lenk, BarbaraBarbara Lenk 2011 - Deval Patrick
Liacos, Paul J.Paul J. Liacos 1976 1996 Michael Dukakis, Associate and Chief
Lincoln, Sr., LeviLevi Lincoln, Sr. 1824 1825 William Eustis
Lord, OtisOtis Lord 1875 1882 William Gaston
Loring, WilliamWilliam Loring 1899 1919 Roger Wolcott
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 2010 William Weld, Associate/Paul Cellucci, Chief
Merrick, PlinyPliny Merrick 1853 1864 John H. Clifford
Metcalf, TheronTheron Metcalf 1848 1865 George N. Briggs
Morton, MarcusMarcus Morton 1825 1840 Levi Lincoln, Jr.
Morton, MarcusMarcus Morton 1869 1890 William Claflin, Associate/John Davis Long, Chief
Morton, JamesJames Morton 1890 1913 John Q. A. Brackett
Nolan, JosephJoseph Nolan 1981 1995 Edward J. King
Parker, IsaacIsaac Parker 1806 1830 Caleb Strong, Associate and Chief
Parsons, TheophilusTheophilus Parsons 1806 1814 Caleb Strong
O'Connor, Francis PatrickFrancis Patrick O'Connor 1981 1997 Edward J. King
Pierce, EdwardEdward Pierce 1914 1937 Caleb Strong
Putnam, SamuelSamuel Putnam 1814 1842 Caleb Strong
Qua, StanleyStanley Qua 1934 1956 Joseph B. Ely, Associate/Robert F. Bradford, Chief
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.
Sanderson, GeorgeGeorge Sanderson 1924 1932 Channing H. Cox
Sedgwick, TheodoreTheodore Sedgwick 1802 1813 Caleb Strong
Sewall, SamuelSamuel Sewall 1800 1814 Caleb Strong
Shaw, LemuelLemuel Shaw 1830 1860 Levi Lincoln, Jr.
Sheldon, HenryHenry Sheldon 1905 1915 William Lewis Douglas
Sosman, Martha B.Martha B. Sosman 2000 2007 Paul Cellucci
Soule, AugustAugust Soule 1877 1881 Alexander H. Rice
Spalding, JohnJohn Spalding 1944 1971 Leverett Saltonstall
Spiegel, JacobJacob Spiegel 1960 1972 Foster Furcolo
Spina, Francis X.Francis X. Spina 1999 - Paul Cellucci
Strong, SimeonSimeon Strong 1801 1805 Caleb Strong
Tauro, G. JosephG. Joseph Tauro 1970 1976 Francis W. Sargent
Thatcher, GeorgeGeorge Thatcher 1801 1824 Caleb Strong
Thomas, BenjaminBenjamin Thomas 1853 1859 John H. Clifford
Wait, WilliamWilliam Wait 1923 1934 Channing H. Cox
Wells, JohnJohn Wells 1866 1875 Alexander H. Bullock
Whittemore, ArthurArthur Whittemore 1955 1969 Christian Herter
Wilde, SamuelSamuel Wilde 1815 1850 Caleb Strong
Wilkins, Herbert P.Herbert P. Wilkins 1972 1999 Francis W. Sargent, Associate/William Weld, Chief
Wilkins, RaymondRaymond Wilkins 1944 1970 Leverett Saltonstall, Associate/Christian Herter, Chief
Williams, Harold P.Harold P. Williams 1947 1962 Robert F. Bradford


The proper legal citation for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is "Mass."


  1. ^ Lowell, Delmar R., The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899 (p 35); Rutland VT, The Tuttle Company, 1899; ISBN 9780788415678.
  2. ^ Boston Globe: Frank Phillips, "Patrick to name first African-American chief justice of SJC," November 4, 2010, accessed April 4, 2011
  3. ^ Boston Herald: "Newest Mass. SJC Justice ‘Nan’ Duffly takes seat," February 7, 2011, accessed April 4, 2011
  4. ^ Levenson, Michael (May 4, 2011). "Lenk approved for SJC; first openly gay justice on state's highest court". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ Boston Globe: "Margaret Marshall, author of Mass. gay marriage decision, to retire," July 21, 2010, accessed April 4, 2011

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