By: Rich Baker – Candidate for Governor’s Council
A safe and orderly society relies on the integrity of its judges and magistrates. While many states elect their judges directly, Massachusetts separates their judges from the requirements of running for election; instead we select judges through a representative system. In Massachusetts, the Governor’s Council approves the Governor’s judicial nominations, evaluating judicial candidates much like the US Senate Judiciary Committee.
In order to assure that only the best judges are selected, the Massachusetts Governor’s Council needs to be populated with Councillors who understand what makes a good judge, who have experience with the court system, who understand the rule of law and its importance to a safe society. The Council needs a balance of opinions so that the judicial nominees are thoroughly questioned before approval.
However, the current makeup of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council is lacking the balance that it needs. The present Governor’s Council is made up of seven Democrats and one Republican, Jennie Caissie from Worcester County. Of the seven Democrats, three are moderates that typically vote with Governor Baker, and four are liberal Democrats who often vote against the administration.
Governor Baker has been nominating judges based on their compliance to the rule of law. This means that his nominees are able to separate their personal feelings about a case, and make their decisions based on the facts presented as applied to the law as written, within the confines of judicial precedent. In other words, Baker’s judicial nominees let the state representatives and state senators make the law.
The four liberal members of the Governor’s Council use another criteria to select judges. They base their decisions on which judges to select on a litmus test of liberal issues. Does the judge support abortion? Gay marriage? The death penalty? These liberal members of the Governor’s Council want judicial activists that agree with their politics. By selecting judges based on a litmus test, tough, fair judges are bypassed for judges that use their personal feelings to make a decision.
This creates unfair situations where justice differs in Roxbury District Court from Barnstable District Court. Justice should be the same in all District Courts in Massachusetts, all following the same law of the Commonwealth, and should not vary based on a judge’s personal feelings and biases. Litmus tests create inequality in the courts.
On numerous occasions in the past two years, the Governor’s Council has reached a four to four deadlock on Governor Baker’s nominees. In these situations, the Lieutenant Governor, Karen Polito, as the presiding officer of the Governor’s Council, recesses the Council and summons Governor Baker to preside over the Council while Polito votes. Governor Baker needs to excuse himself from other business to lead the Council so Polito can vote, disrupting his day. But Governor Baker’s nominees are approved 5-4.
In the coming election, Councillor Albano of Longmeadow is not running for re-election to the Council (he is running for Sherriff in Hampden County). Albano is one of the moderate Democrats who often supported the Governor’s nominees. There are two Democrats running to replace him, and may add another vote against Governor Baker’s nominees. This will replace the rule of law criteria for judges with a liberal litmus test criteria.
However, there are two Republicans running against two of the liberal Democrats on the Governor’s Council. Rich Baker has a good chance of winning the seat in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, and Brad Williams is running on the South Shore. Winning each of these seats is critical to assuring that fair and tough judges, those who believe in the rule of law, continue to be appointed to the Massachusetts bench.