Justice Kimberly S. Budd was unanimously cleared by a state panel Wednesday to become chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court and the first Black woman to lead the state’s high bench.
The Governor’s Council confirmed Budd by a 7-0 vote, three weeks after Governor Charlie Baker nominated her to succeed Ralph D. Gants after his unexpected death in September.
Budd, a former prosecutor who has served as an associate justice on the SJC since 2016, has been hailed by litigators and elected officials as a conscientious jurist whose confirmation is not only barrier breaking on a predominantly white court, but befitting a time when the judiciary is weighing how best to address racial inequities and access to justice.
Baker called Budd “an exceptional and dignified jurist” in a statement Wednesday. “I have the utmost confidence that she will now lead the Commonwealth’s highest court and all those that come before it with grace and impartiality,” he said.
The chief justice both leads the seven-member SJC — a 328-year-old institution and the oldest continuously sitting appellate court in the Western Hemisphere — and serves as the top administrator of the state’s sprawling judiciary, covering everything from the trial and family courts to probation services.
Budd was appointed a Superior Court judge in 2009 by Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and was tapped by Baker, Republican, for the SJC seven years later. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the 1991 class at Harvard Law School, which included Barack Obama. She is a former attorney for Harvard University and prosecutor in the US attorney’s office.
Geraldine S. Hines, who in 2014 became the first Black woman to serve on the SJC, said at Budd’s confirmation hearing that her nomination would end a “long-running historical void” on the high bench. No woman of color has ever been chief justice in Massachusetts, and Budd will be just the second Black chief justice, after Roderick Ireland (2010-2014), and the second woman to hold the role, after Margaret H. Marshall (1999-2010).
Budd, 54, of Newton, is also be the state’s youngest chief justice in more than a century. She won’t reach the state’s mandatory retirement age until October 2036.
The council’s vote on Budd was expected to be the first of three in the coming weeks on Baker’s SJC nominees.
Dalila Argaez Wendlandt, an Appeals Court judge whom Baker nominated to be an associate justice, appeared Wednesday before the council for her hearing. If confirmed, Wendlandt, 51, would be the first Latina on the high court.
On Tuesday, Baker nominated a Boston Municipal Court judge, Serge Georges Jr., 50, to fill Budd’s associate justice spot. If approved, he would join only a handful of SJC justices to have also served at the district court level, and as a Haitian American, he could complete what would be the most diverse high court in the state’s history. The SJC has never featured three jurists of color.
The Governor’s Council has scheduled a Dec. 2 hearing for Georges.