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Sad Week for the Mass. High Court

News yesterday of the death of Martha B. Sosman, associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, at 56, was not entirely unanticipated. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and last year was so ill that she watched oral arguments from her home via Webcasts. Justice Sosman's death came just three days after the death of Edward F. Hennessey, the SJC's former chief justice and a member of the court from 1971 to 1989.

Justice Sosman's place in the history books may be marked by her role as dissenter in Goodridge v. Department of Health, the case that gave the green light to gay marriage in Massachusetts. In fact, a 2004 Boston Globe Magazine profile of her was titled, The Dissenter. That profile suggested that Sosman's position in Goodridge may leave her "on the wrong side of history." Maybe so, but she never lost the respect of lawyers in this state. The liberal Massachusetts blog Blue Mass. Group reflected the sentiment of many when it said yesterday, "We here at BMG may not have always agreed with her opinions. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has lost a good citizen."

Of course, Justice Sosman's career was distinguished by much more than her role in one judicial opinion. After five years as a lawyer at Foley, Hoag & Eliot in Boston, she became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1984. In 1986, then-U.S. Attorney William Weld appointed her as chief of his office's civil division. She remained there until 1989, when she became a founding member of Boston's first all-woman law firm, Kern, Sosman, Hagerty, Roach & Carpenter. (Another founder of that firm, M. Ellen Carpenter, died in December at the age of 52.) In 1993, she was named to the Superior Court. When she joined the SJC in 2000, she gave it its first-ever female majority.

Said SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall yesterday: "Justice Sosman will be remembered as one of the great justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, despite her all too brief tenure on the court."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 12, 2007 at 05:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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