Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday nominated Boston Municipal Court Judge Serge Georges Jr. to the Supreme Judicial Court, the latest in a series of historic picks that aim to bring unprecedented diversity to the high court.
By selecting Georges, a Black jurist raised in Dorchester, Baker has now offered seven new nominees to the SJC, putting the Republican governor in line to appoint the entire bench and make the state’s top appellate court better reflect the 7 million residents it serves.
The announcement Tuesday follows Baker’s selection of Kimberly S. Budd to be the court’s first Black female chief justice and Dalila Argaez Wendlandt to be the court’s first Latina justice. The three picks, if confirmed by the Governor’s Council, would guarantee the SJC has three jurists of color for the first time in its 328-year history.
“When you have diversity amongst genders and races and cultures, including experience, it’s going to lead to better decision-making,” said Georges, who was born in New York City, lived for four years in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grew up in Dorchester, sharing a rented two-bedroom apartment with his two older sisters and his parents, both Haitian immigrants.
At a time when advocates say the state must better address racial disparities in charging and sentencing, Georges would be just the fourth Black person ever named to the court.
Budd, who Baker appointed as an associate justice in 2016, is currently the only jurist of color on the SJC.
But diversity on the high court — an institution long dominated by white males — goes deeper than race alone, Georges said.
“It would be very easy to just limit it to, ‘Well, there’s a Black person or there’s a white person,’” he said. “It can’t be painted with that broad a brush. But I will say, when you do look at the experience that the different justices had — both professionally, educationally, culturally, in upbringing — that it can only lead to better decisions.”
Georges, 50, would fill the associate justice seat currently occupied by Budd, who appeared before the eight-member Governor’s Council last week for a confirmation hearing and is poised to be confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting.
A Boston College and Suffolk University Law School graduate, Georges was first nominated by former Governor Deval Patrick to the Boston Municipal Court bench in 2013 and currently sits in Dorchester, where for four years he presided over the drug court. It’s there, he said, he’s been guided by what he called a cornerstone principle of his Jesuit education, offering people a chance to learn from their mistakes and “earn a dismissal of their case — or redemption.”
“There are plenty of people that have just made mistakes that need some guidance in order to get back on their feet,” he said.
He later worked at several law firms, including Barron & Stadfeld, where he was a partner, and also opened his own solo practice, where he focused on commercial and business litigation, as well as criminal law. Georges, who lives in Randolph, has been an adjunct professor at Suffolk University Law School for the last 20 years.
Ernst Guerrier, who served as a mentor for Georges at Suffolk Law, said that as two Haitian-Americans — one from Mattapan, the other from Dorchester — they instantly formed a bond, and Georges still refers to him as “big brother.” When Georges called Guerrier on Monday to tell him about the nomination, they both started to cry.
“Young boys in Dorchester and Mattapan growing up today can look up and say, ‘It is possible, my life can be different,’” Guerrier said.
It’s often in those Boston neighborhoods where landmark cases have their roots, said Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who preceded Georges as president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association.
“He does not have to Google or ask Siri where Roxbury is or where Humboldt Ave. is or where Hancock Street is, which many of our justices on the Supreme Judicial Court would have to do,” Rollins said Tuesday. “He’s lived there. He’s been raised there.”
Baker, in describing how colleagues consider Georges a “rock star,” said his experience in the municipal court aligned with the governor’s goals of building a high bench that “represented a lot of the different pieces" of the law.
SJC justices are typically plucked from superior and appellate courts after spending time in private practice at major law firms or in academia. Beyond Georges — should he be confirmed — and current Associate Justice David A. Lowy, Baker said there have been fewer than a handful of judges who’ve served at the district court level before rising to the SJC in the last three-plus centuries.
“I think that’s unbelievable,” Baker said. “I mean, shocking, actually.”
In a court with already four former prosecutors and a range of time at the appellate level, Georges’s experience handling a busy, and varied, docket can be an asset on the SJC, legal observers said.
“As a trial court judge, he’s had the opportunity to see up close the legal problems of the Commonwealth’s citizens,” said Andrew Perlman, dean of Suffolk University Law School. “That kind of perspective is often missing from our nation’s highest courts, including the SJC. But it’s a perspective that is tremendously important.”
Baker’s string of nominations also carries other historic significance. No governor since Francis W. Sargent, whose final term ended nearly 50 years ago, has tapped six new high-court justices while in office, the Globe has reported. And it’s unclear if any governor has named as many new SJC jurists as Baker will have since the early years of the state’s constitution.
Alan Rogers, a Boston College history professor who focuses on American legal history, told the Globe in September that he’s aware of one governor who nominated seven new justices to the state’s highest court: John Hancock.
Baker first appointed Budd, Lowy, and Frank M. Gaziano in 2016, and the next year, tapped Elspeth “Ellie” B. Cypher, the court’s second openly gay jurist, and Scott L. Kafker, then the state’s top appeals judge, to fill two other openings.
The latest rapid-fire nominations were spurred, in part, by an uncommon series of events. Justice Barbara A. Lenk is nearing her mandatory retirement in December, and the court currently features only six justices following the unexpected death of its chief justice, Ralph D. Gants, in September.
With all three of his recent nominations, Baker would also continue building a court that could outlast not just him but his successor.
Each of Baker’s seven SJC nominees had not yet reached 60 years old when he nominated them, and should all five of his current appointees stay on the court until hitting mandatory retirement at age 70, they will serve, on average, 14 years and 10 months on the high bench.
Georges could serve until the year 2040. Wendlandt, currently an appellate judge, is 51, and could sit on the court until 2039. Budd, 54, won’t have to step down from the high court until October 2036, a full two decades after she first was appointed.
And should all of his high-court appointees serve until mandatory retirement and Baker does not seek and win a third term, his successor would have to twice win election — in 2022 and 2026 — before having the chance to select a SJC nominee. Cypher and Kafker, who at 61 are the oldest of Baker’s current appointees, won’t have to retire until 2029.