Budd confirmation means three Baker appointees set to join SJC

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STATE HOUSE — The Governor’s Council on Wednesday confirmed Kimberly Budd to a seat on the Supreme Judicial Court, marking a complete sweep for Gov. Charlie Baker in his first bid at reshaping the state’s high court in the face of multiple judicial retirements.

A Gov. Deval Patrick appointee who has served as a Superior Court justice since 2009, Budd is currently a regional administrative justice responsible for overseeing the administration and management of criminal business in Middlesex County.

“Her record is this: she has been a law and order judge on the Superior Court, and she will continue to be a law and order judge on the Massachusetts Supreme Court,” Councilor Jennie Caissie said.

The vote followed the council’s unanimous confirmations of judges Frank Gaziano and David Lowy, whose nominations Baker announced with Budd’s in June.

“Judge Kimberly Budd’s qualifications, temperament and confirmation today will ensure the Supreme Judicial Court is at full strength when they return for their first sitting in September,” Baker said in a statement. “I congratulate Judge Budd and Judges Frank Gaziano and David Lowy as we look forward to the impartiality and hard work they will bring to the Commonwealth’s highest court from decades of judicial practice.”

SJC judges Francis Spina and Robert Cordy are scheduled to retire on Friday. Fernande Duffly stepped down from the bench a month ago.

When the court begins its new session in the fall, it will do so with three of its seven justices picked by Baker. Two more SJC judges — Geraldine Hines and Margot Botsford — will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 during the Republican governor’s first term, guaranteeing him a chance to appoint the majority of the bench.

“I want to applaud the governor and the lieutenant governor for not only Judge Budd, but Judges Gaziano and Lowy because the court is not tilted to the right, as some were suspect of,” Councilor Michael Albano said. “It’s a moderate, left-leaning court, at least by the answers that they gave to the executive council. So these are three qualified individuals, and I think the governor has two more, and if they’re anything like the first three, it’s going to be a very good Supreme Judicial Court for many, many years to come.”

When he announced his three nominees, Baker said he wants his administration’s legacy in the SJC to be “a court that people believe makes its decisions based on the rule of law, gives everybody the hearing they deserve and treats everybody with the level of respect and decency that the law demands.”

While Budd and Hines are on the SJC bench, the court will have an unprecedented two African-American women justices. Budd said during the hearing her background would give her a “different perspective on the world.”

A Newton resident and the daughter of former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd, Budd has previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and as Harvard’s university attorney. Albano described the Budds as “one of the great public service families in America today.”

During her hearing last week, Budd told councilors that she opposes the death penalty and the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, that she believes too many people are included on the Sex Offender Registry and that she doesn’t “see any reason why an illegal immigrant couldn’t have a driver’s license.”

Budd’s comments on sex offenders and driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants met pushback from Taunton Republican Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, who said such stances made Budd “unfit to serve” on the high court. Before voting to confirm Budd Wednesday, councilors fired back at the criticism of the nominee.

Caissie and Councilor Marilyn Devaney each said they had spoken to Budd to clarify remarks they described as taken out of context by O’Connell.

Devaney said Budd was asked to respond to a hypothetical situation about a 16-year-old boy found guilty of statutory rape after having sex with a girlfriend who had not yet turned 16, the age of consent in Massachusetts.

“When Judge Budd was presented this, she said there are many like that that should not be on a sex offender registry,” said Devaney, a Watertown Democrat. Devaney said, “It’s unfair to a person to demean them and misrepresent what actually happened.”

Caissie, an Oxford Republican, said she reached out to Budd on the driver’s license issue, and the judge “made it very clear” that she would follow existing law.

A law Baker signed last month to bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID act included language specifying that Massachusetts driver’s licenses can only be obtained by people who are lawfully present in the country.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that there are some that will play political pattycake and take answers out of context to benefit from a 24-hour-news cycle,” Caissie said. “What we do in this room is solemn, and when you talk about the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, I know my colleagues and I work incredibly hard. It was a six-hour hearing, and I think if you’re going to criticize a nominee’s answers you might want to spend a little time at the hearing. I don’t recall seeing anybody from the House of Representatives here.”

Councilor Joseph Ferreira of Somerset said the question of whether people in the country illegally should be eligible for driver’s licenses “will never be decided by the Supreme Judicial Court.”

“It’s a statutory matter, to be decided by the Legislature only,” he said. “There is no constitutional right to drive a car.”

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service