Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Md. voters will vote on name change for appeals courts

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera says the proposed name change necessary because the current moniker is “the source of much confusion.” (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera says the proposed name change necessary because the current moniker is “the source of much confusion.” (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland voters will decide next year whether “justice” comes to the state.

The Maryland Senate on Tuesday joined the House of Delegates in approving a proposed constitutional amendment to change the name of the state’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 judges, however, would still be called judges.

The proposed amendment, having been passed by three-fifths of both the House and Senate, will become a ballot question for Maryland voters in the fall of 2022.

The Senate vote was 40-7; the House tally was 125-10.

Approval by a simple majority of the state’s voters would amend the Maryland Constitution to change the appellate courts’ names and the titles of the top court’s jurists.

The Court of Appeals’ chief judge hailed the General Assembly’s action.

Maryland’s two appellate courts each carry a rich history, Mary Ellen Barbera said in a statement Wednesday.

“They will continue to do so even as their names change to meet the need for greater clarity about their roles,” Barbera added. “The efforts to resolve the confusion caused by the names of Maryland’s appellate courts are not new, going back to the 1967-68 Constitutional Commission and Convention and then again throughout the 1990s. I am gratified that the General Assembly has supported a long needed change that will help the people of Maryland and beyond understand Maryland courts better.”

Barbera told legislators this session that many nonlawyers 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.

Creating a Maryland Supreme Court would clarify matters for everyone, Barbera said in urging lawmakers to approve the amendment and send it to the voters for ratification.

Barbera did not address the proposed change from “judge” to “justice.”

Barbera would never assume the title of chief justice because she will reach the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 in September, and the proposed amendment would not go before Maryland voters until next year.

The impetus for the change from judge to justice began with Barbera’s predecessor.

Former Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who stepped down in 2013 upon reaching age 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.

Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader told legislators this session that changing the name of his court was also necessary because the current name has become a “misnomer.”

“Court of Special Appeals” was correct when it reviewed only a “special” category of cases, namely criminal appeals, Fader said. However, he continued, the court has for decades heard all manner of appeals from the state’s circuit courts.

Furthermore, Fader said, the word “special” has led many nonlawyers and attorneys from outside the state to assume the state’s second-highest court is above the Court of Appeals.

Del. Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s, was the chief House sponsor of the proposed amendment, House Bill 885.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Prince George’s, was the chief Senate sponsor of the proposed amendment, Senate Bill 666.


To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.