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Robert Cordy, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court since 2001, announced Wednesday he would retire in August, giving Republican Gov. Charlie Baker the opportunity to make his first nomination to the state's highest court.
Cordy, 66, was nominated to the seven-member high court by then-Gov. Paul Cellucci. He previously served in private law and in the public arena as a federal prosecutor and as chief legal counsel to an earlier Republican governor, William Weld.
The judicial office has no set term of years but a mandatory retirement age of 70.
In 2003, Cordy was one of three justices who wrote dissenting opinions when the SJC issued a landmark ruling that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Cordy argued that it was the state Legislature, not the judiciary, which had the authority to decide the issue.
"This case is not about government intrusions into matters of personal liberty ... It is about whether the state must endorse and support their choices by changing the institution of civil marriage to make its benefits, obligations, and responsibilities applicable to them," Cordy wrote at the time.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants said in a statement that Cordy authored hundreds of "carefully crafted and reasoned majority opinions" during his tenure on the bench. And Margaret Marshall, the court's former chief justice who wrote the majority opinion in the gay marriage case, said it was an honor to serve with Cordy. She praised the thoughtfulness of his decisions, "even when he and I disagreed."
Baker, who took office in January 2015, told reporters Wednesday he had no litmus test for judicial nominees, and would seek jurists who brought "appropriate temperament" and "intellectual rigor" to the bench. His predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, had an extraordinary influence on the high court, naming five associate justices and elevating two members to chief justice during his eight years in office.
Cordy served as chair of the Rules Committee and co-chair of the Judiciary-Media Committee, and he helped implement major reforms on the court, according to a statement from the SJC. He helped oversee the renovation of the John Adams Courthouse in downtown Boston and the construction of new courthouses in Worcester, Salem, Plymouth and Fall River, the court said. He also has been an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law since 2004.
Following his retirement, Cordy plans to return to private practice and continue work on legal issues with judicial systems around the world. He joined the Judicial Advisory Board of the American Society of International Law, chaired by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in 2013.
"I have served with wonderful, collaborative colleagues and an outstanding staff, all committed to excellence in furtherance of that mission," Cordy said.
The governor will nominate a successor after receiving recommendations from a screening panel known as the Judicial Nominating Commission. The nominee must be confirmed by the Governor's Council, an eight-member elected body.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report