The Governor's Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the first of Gov. Charlie Baker's three nominees to the Supreme Judicial Court, marking the beginning of what could be a substantial reshaping of the high court.
Superior Court Judge Frank Gaziano, lauded by court colleagues as a legal "superstar" and "fair-minded jurist," was cleared to join the seven-seat court that serves as the last word on state law matters.
Councilors Robert Jubinville, Michael Albano and Terrence Kennedy expressed some concern before the vote about Gaziano's stance on the death penalty. As a federal prosecutor, Gaziano won a death sentence for murderer Gary Lee Sampson. A judge reportedly vacated Sampson's death penalty in 2011 because a juror lied during the screening process, and Sampson is set to undergo a new sentencing trial.
"If I thought there was going to be a death penalty passed in Massachusetts, I might vote differently," Kennedy said.
Councilor Marilyn Devaney said she was "proud" to vote to confirm Gaziano.
"He's so qualified, so experienced," Devaney said before the vote. She said, "He's not political. He's not out there."
Councilor Jennie Caissie, the council's lone Republican, said Gaziano is a "judicial centrist" who will provide "a healthy dose for our current SJC."
A graduate of Suffolk University Law School, Gaziano worked at Foley Hoag, in the Plymouth County prosecutor's office and for the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts before his appointment as a judge in 2004, when Mitt Romney was governor.
The Scituate resident is the first of Baker's three Supreme Judicial Court nominees to be vetted and voted on by the eight-member elected council.
The council is set to interview Superior Court Judge David Lowy on July 20 and Superior Court Judge Kimberly Budd on Aug. 3.
Gaziano is scheduled to replace Justice Francis Spina, who is stepping down Aug. 12. Justice Fernande Duffly was set to retire Tuesday, July 12 and Justice Robert Cordy plans to retire in August.
Next March and October two more justices — Margot Botsford and Geraldine Hines - will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, guaranteeing Baker the chance to nominate a majority of the court in his first term. The shift will gradually erode the influence of court appointees nominated by former Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2016.