Barbara A. Lenk, a veteran Appeals Court judge, today won confirmation to a seat on the Supreme Judicial Court, becoming the first openly gay judge to serve on the state’s highest judicial body.
The Governor’s Council confirmed Lenk on a 5-3 vote. She is Governor Deval Patrick’s fourth appointment to the seven-member SJC, which issued the landmark 2003 ruling that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Lenk, who married her partner, Debra Krupp, after the ruling, has 18 years’ experience on the bench, a degree from Harvard Law School, and a doctorate in political philosophy from Yale. Patrick nominated her to replace Justice Judith A. Cowin, who is retiring.
Lenk's confirmation hearing last week lasted more than seven hours, and was often contentious.
Critics raised questions about Lenk’s ruling in an incest case, and about whether she had avoided conflicts of interest when Krupp represented clients at the Appeals Court in her capacity as a lawyer for the state public defenders’ office.
Social conservatives blasted Lenk, saying her appointment to the SJC would encourage the indoctrination of children into homosexuality.
But Lenk had the full backing of the state’s legal establishment. Bar association leaders, former judges, and Lenk’s former clerks wrote letters to the Governor’s Council, saying Lenk’s critics were inappropriately focused on her sexuality and ignoring her legal credentials.
They praised her as a woman of fairness, decency, and uncommon intellect.
Patrick had sought to cool the emotional debate, saying the fact that Lenk would be the first openly gay SJC justice was a “nice coincidence,” but secondary to her qualifications for the bench.
"I thank the members of the Council who concluded, as I did, that Justice Lenk's sharp intellect, vast experience, and deep sense of humanity will make her an outstanding Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court," Patrick said in a statement issued after the Governor's Council vote. "The people of the Commonwealth will be well served by having her extraordinary talents and wisdom join our highest court."
The first African-American governor, who has acknowledged that he likes "firsts," Patrick has also named the first Asian-American justice to the high court, Fernande R.V. Duffly, and the first African-American chief justice, Roderick L. Ireland.
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