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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Change at the top

Margaret Marshall's decision to step down as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court bring a swirl of thoughts about her role in the landmark Goodrich gay marriage decision; the health of her husband, the legendary New York Timesman Tony Lewis; and the unique opportunity presented to Deval Patrick to shape the campaign and his own legacy.

Not to mention give the anachronistic Governor's Council are major moment in the sun.

Marshall's legacy is huge: the first women chief of the state with the Constitution on which the US Constitution was modeled was at the helm when Massachusetts declared that same-sex marriage was a right under law. Despite all the sturm und drang the state is still standing and others are slowly but inexorably moving in the same direction.

As a journalist, I am also a bit saddened that Lewis, a giant during the Times era of Reston and Wicker, is ailing with Parkinson's disease. That Marshall is stepping down ahead of mandatory retirement to spend more time with her husband reflects the real meaning of marriage, not the artificial definitions tossed around before and after Goodrich.

What's also interesting is her timing: during the summer when Patrick can make a nomination to replace her without having potential lame duck status hanging over his head.

Thankfully the process is different in Massachusetts than in Washington, where court nominees must thread the review process of eight-member Governor's Council rather than the 100-member Senate. Ninety-two fewer blowhards. And the tie-breaking vote held by the lieutenant governor.

Once upon a time, in the colonial era, the council had power. Today it's an archaic vestige of the past the principally agrees to pay the bills. The only true power is confirming judicial appointments from the district court to the high court.

It is a power they will exercise with great relish, but in the end the Massachusetts process should be more civilized -- and less polarizing.

The timing does leave off two possible candidates though: I suspect Elena Kagan will be working elsewhere in a few months. Nor do I think that Patrick will name himself. He's got bigger thoughts on his mind right now.

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