SJC Chief Margaret H. Marshall announces retirement in October

Issue August 2010 By Megan Griffith

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall announced her intention to resign by the end of October 2010, citing her husband's diagnosis with Parkinson's disease as the reason for her early retirement.

Marshall's announcement comes as the Massachusetts judicial system continues to grapple with devastating budget reductions. She said that her decision to resign was made in spite of budget cuts, emphasizing that "because of the budget shortcuts, it will be difficult for the system to live up to delivering justice."

Marshall has spoken out forcefully against budget cuts to the justice system, citing a report developed since 2002 on resources necessary for the courts to function in Massachusetts. Though she commended the courts' employees for upholding justice, she stressed that this could only work for a very short period of time, saying, "It is very possible to run a sprint if you don't have to run a marathon."

The South African-born Harvard alumna was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court by former Gov. William F. Weld in 1996. She pointed to the lack of justice in her childhood country as one of the foremost reasons why she respects the freedoms and justice accorded by the Massachusetts Constitution. Marshall saw her role on the SJC as extremely important to protecting those rights for citizens of Massachusetts.

"To one who loves the law as I do, there is no greater joy than shaping the law," she said. "My presence on this court is a great treasure."

Throughout her tenure on the Court, Marshall has overseen some controversial cases. The most famous is arguably Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, in which the SJC approved same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003.

When asked about Goodridge, however, Marshall responded, "For me, every case has that importance. It's difficult to know which decisions will have great impact."

While on the SJC, Marshall has authored over 300 decisions. Though Goodridge will inevitably stand out for many, she mentioned three cases that she considered most important, based on how often other courts considered her decision.

These included:

  • Haglund v. Philip Morris, Inc., where the SJC ruled that a cigarette manufacturer could not defend against lung cancer cases by asserting "unreasonable use" of the cigarette;
  • Renzi v. Paredes, where the SJC ruled that a patient could sue for a lost chance of survival due to a misdiagnosis; and
  • Salvas v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., where the SJC ordered certification of a class action suit over lost wages and employees' meal breaks.

Marshall stressed that she valued her time on the court and thanked both Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray for their help, as well as the associate justices of the SJC. "I feel very privileged to serve the commonwealth," she said, "but I take great comfort knowing that with you the court rests in wonderful hands."