Governor Deval Patrick made history again today with one of his judicial selections, nominating Barbara A. Lenk, an associate justice of the state Appeals Court who is married to a same-sex partner, to a seat on the Supreme Judicial Court.
If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, Lenk would be the first openly gay judge on the state’s highest court. She would also be the only justice who was married as a result of the court’s landmark 2003 ruling that made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004.
The nomination of Lenk comes after the governor named Roderick Ireland to be the first African-American chief justice of the SJC, and Fernande R.V. Duffly to be the first Asian-American judge on the state’s high court. Patrick has spoken of his desire to make the judiciary and other branches of government more reflective of the state's diversity.
“It’s a nice coincidence and a happy one,” Patrick said of Lenk's potential to make history. “I love the idea of firsts as you know and I’m proud of this one, but first and foremost. This is very well-prepared and highly qualified candidate.”
Lenk spoke generally about her desire to “bring with me the sympathy and understanding of one who’s experienced a full life from inside and outside the mainstream.”
“As a judge,” she said “my only allegiance is to the rule of law and to fair and equal treatment of all who come before the court.”
Lenk also spoke about her impoverished upbringing in New York, the daughter of a bookbinder and a housekeeper whose first language was Polish and who could not afford to attend college.
“I never expected to be standing here but the fact that I am shows that my story is the American story where anything is possible,” Lenk said.
A specialist in civil litigation and First Amendment issues, Lenk holds a doctorate in political philosophy from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
In 1993, Governor William F. Weld, a Republican, appointed her to the Superior Court, where she served until 1995, when Weld appointed her to the Appeals Court. She was considered a top choice under Weld, but was never selected by him.
Patrick, a Democrat, is nominating Lenk to fill the seat held by Justice Judith A. Cowin, who announced in January that she planned to step down from the bench in early April. Patrick had already named to the court three other justices, Ralph Gants, Margot Botsford, and Duffly.
With Lenk's nomination, his appointees will fill four of the court's seven seats. He also elevated Ireland from an associate judgeship to the chief's position.
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