Budd on track as chief justice in a move that 'transcends history'

Justice Kimberly Budd, the governor's nominee to lead the Supreme Judicial Court, fielded questions from Governor's Council members last Thursday. Sam Doran/SHNS photo

Supreme Judicial Court Judge Kimberly Budd, Gov. Baker’s pick to serve as the top court’s next chief justice, said last week she wants to use the post to ensure that everyone has a voice “and to see that justice is done.”

In talking with members of the Governor’s Council at her confirmation hearing on Nov. 12, Budd said, “I’m sure that it will not come as a surprise to anyone here that being a Black woman in this country has framed my personal and professional experiences, including my roles as a mother and a wife, as a lawyer and a judge.

“Like so many people of color, I’ve had the experience of being dismissed or overlooked,” she said. “Because of that, I did my best as a trial judge to make sure that defendants and pro se parties who came before me and who may have felt powerless knew that they were seen and heard. In the same vein, as an associate judge on the SJC, I was able to bring a perspective to the table that otherwise may not have been considered or appreciated.”

Budd, if confirmed by the council, is on track to become the first Black woman to serve as SJC chief justice. Baker nominated her for the post last month, after the sudden death of Chief Justice Ralph Gants in September.

Budd said she “proudly stands” on the shoulders of past judges who marked various “firsts” on the high court – Roderick Ireland, the first Black chief justice; Margaret Marshall, the first female chief justice; Geraldine Hines, the first Black woman on the SJC bench; and Ruth Abrams, the court’s first woman judge.

“Because each of them came before me, representing a first in their respective class, I believed that I could do it, too,” she said.

Ireland and Hines spoke in support of Budd, and Marshall sent in a letter backing her. The hearing paused in the afternoon to allow Budd time to participate in a virtual special sitting in memory of Abrams, who died last year.

Ireland said Budd “is smart, experienced, seasoned, analytical, a great listener, open to hearing all points of view, patient, humble, and on top of everything else, a kind and decent person” who “has what it takes in every respect and will be an outstanding chief justice.”

Hines, who retired from the SJC in 2017, called it a “high honor” to be able to testify for Budd. “When I started my legal career almost 50 years ago, at a time when the country was in the midst of this awakening from the nightmare of Jim Crow that had colored my own life experience, I could not have imagined a moment such as this – a Black woman being nominated as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Americas,” she said.

Hines said Budd would join three other women of color — from California, Louisiana, and North Carolina — who serve as chief justices of state supreme courts. She commended Baker for a nomination that breaks “barriers that held us back from this moment for 328 years” since the court was founded in 1692, calling that “a long time to wait for a woman of color to take her seat at the head of the table.”

Budd’s nomination “transcends history,” Hines said, because Budd “is quite simply the best person for the job,” saying the 54-year-old would lead the court with a steady hand, firm resolve and “youthful vigor.”

Merry Sheehan, an attorney who interned and clerked for Budd, described the judge as a mentor who had an “immeasurable impact” on her career and personal life. She recalled Budd asking her once, over a taco lunch, “Why are you nervous? I’m a person just like you,” and read notes from other former law clerks who said Budd was always available and gave advice on the different timelines and avenues available for women in the legal field.

Held in a large, open banquet hall at the State House and streamed online, the hearing was attended by Budd’s father, former US Attorney Wayne Budd, and her godfather, former state attorney general Thomas Reilly, along with her husband, Bill Thompson, the elder of their two sons, and a niece.

It marked Budd’s second time before the council in the last four years. She was unanimously confirmed for her current associate justice position in August 2016.

The Governor’s Council has nearly the same makeup as in 2016 — Councilor Mary Hurley is a new addition since then, and the central Massachusetts seat last held by Jennie Cassie is vacant – and multiple councilors indicated they would likely back Budd again.

“I am not going to vote for you any more after this vote,” quipped Robert Jubinville during an exchange with Budd, calling her “what’s needed for the top job today.”

Christopher Iannella and Joseph Ferreira both said they planned to vote for Budd, and Marilyn Devaney described her support for promoting from within organizations.

“We need you, we’re counting on you, no pressure,” Eileen Duff said.

Council members discussed with Budd issues around child custody and the challenges faced by people representing themselves in foreclosure cases, topics raised by individuals who testified during the hearing.

Those who brought up the foreclosure issues said they wanted to draw attention to the matter but were not there to testify for or against Budd.

Patrick McCabe of the Fatherhood Coalition, who is a fixture at Governor’s Council proceedings, was the only speaker to expressly testify against Budd. He said he did so because she agreed with Judge Elspeth Cypher’s decision in the 2018 child removal case Miller v. Miller, in which he said “a capable and fit parent lost custody.”

“I would speak against not just this nominee, but any member of that panel on that decision,” he said.

Under questioning by Ferreira and Devaney, Budd said that probate judges face difficult decisions in cases where one parent seeks to move away with a child, because every family and every child is different.

“There is no question in my mind, two parents are important if there can’t be joint custody or however it works best for the children, that’s what I believe,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who presides over the Governor’s Council, said Thursday that the council is expected to take a vote on Budd’s confirmation on Wednesday of this week.