Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice set to retire in August 2020

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk is retiring on August 17, 2020. Lenk reached the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

On April 4, 2011, Governor Patrick nominated Lenk for a seat on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She was confirmed by the Governor’s Council on May 4, 2011. Lenk was the first openly gay justice on the court. She previously served as a Massachusetts Superior Court judge from 1993 to 1995, and as a Massachusetts Appeals Court judge from 1995 to 2011.

Justice Lenk earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Yale University in 1978. She earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and approved by the governor’s council. The Governor’s Council, also referred to as the Executive Council, is a governmental body that is constitutionally authorized to approve judicial appointments. The council consists of eight members who are elected every two years from each of the eight council districts. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices hold tenured appointments until they reach 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.

Founded in 1692, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the state’s court of last resort. The court is the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere. Originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, it was established in 1692. The court was renamed the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

The current chief of the court is Ralph D. Gants, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2009. He was nominated by Gov. Patrick to serve as the chief justice of the court in 2014. The remaining five justices of the court are:
• Frank M. Gaziano – Appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in 2016
• David A. Lowy – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Kimberly S. Budd – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Elspeth Cypher – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

• Scott Kafker – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

In 2020, there have been 18 supreme court vacancies in 15 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Five are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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