The Boston Bar Foundation announced today that former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall will receive the 2017 Public Service Award at the Foundation’s John and Abigail Adams Benefit on January 28, 2017.
“Chief Justice Marshall has had not only a groundbreaking career as a student anti-apartheid leader, attorney, jurist, and mentor, she also has had a profound impact on legal history through her 2003 opinion announcing the SJC’s decision on marriage equality in Massachusetts,” said Boston Bar Foundation President Anthony Froio, who is Managing Partner of Robins Kaplan LLP. “We are enormously proud to honor her at the Adams Benefit.”
In 1996 Governor William F. Weld appointed Marshall to the Commonwealth’s highest court. Three years later, she was appointed Chief Justice by the late Governor A. Paul Cellucci, becoming the first woman in the Commonwealth’s history to hold that position.
She is recognized as a champion for an independent judiciary and as a leader in the promotion of management disciplines and administrative reforms within the judicial branch. Her initiatives greatly improved the delivery of justice in Massachusetts, with significant decreases in case backlogs and in the length of time between the filing and resolution of cases, as well as in cost-savings throughout the system.
A long-time advocate of access to justice for all, she implemented innovative procedures for self-represented litigants and strengthened pro bono services by the bar. Many Boston-based attorneys recall the so-called “Marshall Plan,” which helped fund Greater Boston Legal Services at a time when it was facing devastating reductions in service to needy populations due to dramatic decreases in IOLTA funding.
In 2003, Marshall penned the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which granted same-sex couples the right to marry in Massachusetts. The BBA hailed the result as a “civil rights victory.” The SJC’s historic decision in Goodridge is widely regarded as paving the way for marriage equality across the United States and in other countries around the world.
“Without the right to marry – or more properly, the right to choose to marry – one is excluded from the full range of human experience,” Justice Marshall wrote in Goodridge. “The right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one’s choice.”
“I am deeply honored to be receiving this award,” Chief Justice Marshall said. “2017 will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Boston Bar Foundation,” she continued. “For decades, I have admired its demonstrable impact on enhancing access to justice for those most vulnerable. It has special meaning for me for another reason. John Adams – the drafter of the Massachusetts Constitution and the ‘inventor’ of an independent judiciary in a constitutional democracy – remains the greatest of our founding fathers. Abigail Adams is one of my personal role models: a powerful, brilliant and independent woman, she well understood that to ‘forget the ladies’ was not a wise course of action.”
After stepping down from the bench in 2010, Marshall returned to her former firm Choate, Hall & Stewart, LLP where she is a member of the firm’s Complex Trial & Appellate Litigation Group, advising clients on trial preparation and appellate arguments. She also focuses on the firm’s extensive community outreach and pro bono programs, and mentors lawyers.
“What I hope to do is to provide to new members of the profession the kind of knowledge that I acquired over time and to give back in whatever way I can to this profession that has given me so much,” Marshall said in 2015 at her portrait unveiling in the Adams Courthouse.
Held annually, the John and Abigail Adams Benefit is the premier fundraising gala for the Boston Bar Foundation and the legal community, with the event’s proceeds directed to support local organizations that provide civil legal services to those in need. In June, the Foundation announced that, using proceeds from the 2016 event, it was awarding $1,000,000 in grants to 21 legal services organizations throughout Greater Boston.