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Peters once more seeks to bring ‘justice’ to Maryland

A Prince George’s County state senator will try again to bring “justice” to Maryland.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters said last week that he would reintroduce in January a proposed state constitutional amendment to change the name of Maryland’s top judicial tribunal from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Maryland — and the title of its jurists from judge to justice, with the chief judge becoming the chief justice.

The name of Maryland’s intermediate court would also change, from the Court of Special Appeals to the Maryland Appellate Court. Its jurists, however, would still be called judges.

Peters’ effort petered out last session amid the General Assembly’s age-old lack of interest in voting on proposed constitutional amendments in odd-numbered years. The legislative apathy is attributable to the fact that Marylanders vote on General Assembly-approved amendments during federal elections, which occur in even-numbered years.

Peters, a Democrat, said he hoped the 2020 presidential election would focus legislators’ minds on the proposed judicial name changes when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. To become a constitutional amendment, the proposal must be passed by three-fifths of both the House and Senate and then be approved by Maryland voters.

“Next year we’re going to get that bill through,” Peters said last week at a Court of Appeals event celebrating the renaming of the state law library in memory of civil rights icon and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. “We’re going to get it done. This should be the Supreme Court.”

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera has endorsed the proposed name change as necessary to clear up what she called “the source of much confusion.”

Many non-lawyers and attorneys from out of state justifiably presume Maryland’s court of last resort would have the name “Supreme” – as is the case in every other state except New York, which also has an ultimate Court of Appeals, Barbera told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the last General Assembly session.

Creating a Maryland Supreme Court would be “a long overdue change” that would clarify matters for the people of Maryland and elsewhere, Barbera said.

Barbera did not address the proposed change from “judge” to “justice” in her Senate committee testimony. The impetus for that move began with Barbera’s predecessor.

Former Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who stepped down in 2013 upon reaching the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70, used to chide attorneys who mistakenly referred to the high court’s judges as “justices,” telling them that there was no justice in Maryland.


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