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Senate approves changing Court of Appeals to Supreme Court

Amendment would also make judges justices

ANNAPOLIS – “Justice” took one step closer to Maryland on Friday.

The Senate passed, on a 45-1 vote, 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 Appellate Court of Maryland. Its jurists, however, would still be called judges.

Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll, cited his appreciation for preserving Maryland history as the reason for his sole dissenting vote.

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 last year, when the constitutional amendment was previously proposed but failed in the General Assembly.

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

The impetus for the change may have begun 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.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Prince George’s, is chief sponsor of the proposed amendment, Senate Bill 393.

Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a noted amateur Maryland historian, was absent Friday and did not vote. Miller, D-Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles, is battling cancer.

With the Senate’s vote, attention shifts to the House, which is considering its version of the proposal. Del. Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s, is chief sponsor of House Bill 474.

To become a constitutional amendment, a proposal must be passed by three-fifths of both the House and Senate and then be approved by Maryland voters this November.

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