BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick’s pick to be the state’s top judge told a confirmation hearing Wednesday that he believes gay marriage to be settled law in Massachusetts and unlikely to face any future challenge before Massachusetts’ highest court.
Ralph Gants, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, was nominated to succeed Roderick Ireland as the court’s chief justice. Ireland plans to retire after leading the court since 2010.
Gants answered questions for hours about his judicial philosophy from the Governor’s Council, an eight-member elected panel that votes on judicial nominations.
Though not a member of the high court when it issued a landmark decision that made Massachusetts the first state to recognize same-sex marriages, Gants indicated that he personally supports gay marriage and saw no reason for the question to come before the Supreme Judicial Court again.
“I don’t see any material possibility that there is going to be any change,” said Gants. “The law is as settled as any of our law is, as settled as the equal protection principle established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education.”
Gants stressed that the court’s role was to apply the state constitution and interpret the intention of the Legislature when deciding cases.
Asked about the death penalty, he noted that while a private attorney in the 1990s, he worked with a group of other lawyers in drawing up arguments against reinstating capital punishment at a time when the Legislature was considering it.
Gants was careful not to say how he might rule should the death penalty be reinstated and subsequently face a court challenge. He said if Massachusetts had a death penalty, it could have a bearing on the court’s review of first-degree murder convictions because while defendants can always appeal on the basis of new evidence, “that would not do a great deal of good if the newly-discovered evidence emerges after you have been executed.”
The nominee steered clear of a question seeking his view on voter-approved laws, noting that the court was currently deciding whether to allow a question seeking repeal of the 2011 casino law on to the November ballot.
Councilor Robert Jubinville, a defense attorney, pressed Gants to lead a stronger effort to educate judges about drug addiction so that more defendants could receive treatment rather than jail sentences.
“You are going to head this court system, you are going to be the rudder,” said Jubinville, calling a reported statewide increase in reported drug overdoses an emergency.
Gants agreed with the need for more judicial training around addiction, but added that his style would be to discuss the matter with lower court judges, not try to use his position to force action.
“I don’t think I would last too long if I were to be walking into the offices of trial court chief justices and saying, `I order you to do X or Y,”‘ he said.