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Margaret Marshall: Exceptional and Powerful

Posted by Scott Harshbarger  July 21, 2010 03:30 PM

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My contemporary and friend, Margie Marshall, represented many things to many people, and at many different times in her life.

She was (a) a role model and pioneer for women in the law (in a major private law firm, as the General Counsel of Harvard, and as the first female Chief Justice); (b) a native South African who made her mark as a passionate advocate for civil rights and liberties; (c) a tough-minded court manager in a pre-modern, de-centralized, still politically-influenced Massachusetts court system who worked hard to try to bring it into the 21st century, and to lead by setting a tone at the top; (d) the lead interrogator in a court she encouraged to be "hot" – often intimidating any unprepared appellate advocate; (e) a revered mentor to many brilliant and inspired law clerks, and a teacher who welcomed warmly many small groups of law students into her busy schedule and chambers; and (f) a proud curator of the architectural and historical legacy of Adams courthouse and John Adams, the lawyer.

While she will, rightly or wrongly, be remembered for the exceptional, powerful, landmark civil rights/equal protection case – GOODRIDGE versus DPH (2003)(same-sex marriage protected by the same constitutional protections that prohibit fundamental rights denials based on race), or the SJC's rightful (if politically costly) imposition of sanctions on Speaker Finneran and Legislature for deliberately flouting the Clean Elections Law (public funding campaign finance reform law) in order to preserve their own incumbency at the expense of the people's will, the most significant fact for us as citizens in a democracy may well be the selection process by which she got to be our Chief Justice!

For decades, Massachusetts Governors, Republican and Democrat, partisan, pols or reformers, have selected judges based on a merit selection process that, to the extent it is humanly possible, focuses on the individual and professional merit of the candidate, not politics, partisanship or ideology. Margie Marshall, a lifelong Democrat, and the wife of an eminent civil rights, progressive advocate, writer and reporter, was appointed to the Court by Republican Governor Bill Weld, and appointed Chief Justice by Republican Governor Paul Cellucci. It is sad, but true, that such a quality person and lawyer, given her background and record, could never be nominated at the federal level by any President or be confirmed by any US Senate, or ever be selected in most states!

Ultimately, we praise Margie Marshall for her exemplary career, yes, but we also need to understand and value the system of selection that has, and did here again, produce, the “best and the brightest" to interpret and administer the law and justice as part of an "independent judiciary".

She served us well. Thank you Margie. EXCELSIOR!

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About the author

Scott Harshbarger's distinguished public career includes serving two terms as Massachusetts Attorney General (and President of the National Association of Attorneys General)  and as the Democratic candidate for Governor of More »

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