Steve Lash//January 6, 2023
//January 6, 2023
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s top court Friday held its first public session with a name other than the Court of Appeals, as it had been called since 1776.
“Welcome to the Supreme Court of Maryland,” Chief Justice Matthew J. Fader said in opening a pre-session ceremony in the courtroom. “It’s going to take a little time getting used to.”
On Nov. 8, Maryland voters approved by a 75% to 25% margin
a constitutional amendment renaming not only the court but changing the title of its judges to “justices” and of the chief judge to “chief justice.” The changes took effect Dec. 14, when Gov. Larry Hogan issued a written proclamation of the amendment’s adoption.
“This is a change in name only,” said Fader, the court’s first chief justice. “The role of the court has not changed with its name.”
Fader was joined by the court’s three living former chief judges, Joseph M. Getty, Mary Ellen Barbera and Robert M. Bell. They gathered at their old workplace to recognize its new name and do justice to its history at the ceremony held before the admission of new attorneys and oral arguments.
Bell, who served as chief from 1996 to 2013, said he voted against the name change.
He fondly recalled having told attorneys who had erroneously called him “chief justice” during oral arguments that “there is no ‘justice’ in Maryland” – a quip that no longer holds true.
“I come to praise the Court of Appeals, not to bury it,” Bell said, adding that the work of a court is more important than what you call it.
“What’s in a name?” said Bell, the high court’s first Black chief judge. “A Supreme Court by any other name would perform the same; a Court of Appeals by any other name would perform the same.”
Barbera, who pressed for the name change while chief from 2013 to 2021, spoke of “the long and storied history” of the Court of Appeals, which did not have a female judge until Rita C. Davidson’s appointment by acting Gov. Blair Lee III in 1979.
“It was a slow start,” said Barbera, the court’s first female chief judge.
Now, four of the high court’s seven justices are women, Barbera noted.
Getty, who served as chief from 2021 to 2022, said the name change represents the closing of one chapter and the opening of another in the court’s history, but the book remains the same.
“We bring with us all of the traditions of the past,” Getty said, quoting former Court of Appeals Chief Judge James McSherry’s remarks on Nov. 10, 1903, the high court’s first day in its current building.
The name of Maryland’s second-highest court was also changed under the constitutional amendment, from the Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court of Maryland.
The General Assembly approved the name-changing amendment for referendum at Barbera’s and Fader’s urging in 2021.
Barbera said then 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.
“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,” Barbera said after the amendment cleared the legislature. “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.”
Fader, then Court of Special Appeals chief judge, told legislators in 2021 that changing the name of the intermediate court was also necessary because the current name had become a “misnomer.”
“Court of Special Appeals” was correct when it reviewed only a “special” category of cases, namely criminal appeals, said Fader, whom Hogan appointed Court of Appeals chief judge in April.
Fader said in 2021 that the Court of Special Appeals has for decades heard all manner of appeals from the state’s circuit courts.
He added that the word “special” led many nonlawyers and attorneys from outside Maryland to assume the state’s second-highest court was above the Court of Appeals.
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters and Del. Ron Watson, both Prince George’s County Democrats, were chief sponsors of the proposed amendment in 2021.l