The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided a variety of high-profile cases in recent years but its members rarely had a high profile themselves. In that sense, Francis X. Spina embodied the calm, deliberative approach of the SJC.
Judge Spina, a Pittsfield native and resident who turns 70 later this year, is retiring after a career in which he climbed the legal ladder until his appointment to the state Supreme Judicial Court in 1999. U.S. Supreme Court justices and some of their state counterparts pursue or otherwise achieve celebrity status, but that was never Judge Spina's ambition.
Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants described him as "one of the unsung heroes" of the court willing to take on any judicial task, glamorous or not (Eagle, August 12). When Justice Spina offered criticism, the chief justice recalled, it was made respectfully and constructively.
That team approach is not often seen on the national stage, where the fundamental concept of the separation of powers is often demeaned. A Republican Senate that refuses to even conduct hearings for a Supreme Court vacancy because it doesn't want it filled by a Democratic president is weakening that core principle.
"We are all big boys and big girls, and there is a separation of powers, and invariably somebody is going to be unhappy with someone else," Judge Spina told The Eagle's Jim Therrien in describing how the three branches of government in Massachusetts have disagreements but will ultimately carry out their responsibilities in "good faith." There are currently not enough big boys and big girls in Washington for this process to work, resulting in paralysis and bitterness that poisons the national debate.
Judge Spina, who credited the legal community of Berkshire and Hampden counties for helping him build a foundation that served him well as a judge, said the "most important message" for the judicial, executive and legislative branches is that they "have to proceed respectfully, carefully, but also confidently, firmly ..." Judge Spina and his state SJC colleagues have done that consistently through challenging cases brought in contentious times. Washington, particularly at the legislative level where responsibilities are too often shunned, needs to follow that wise advice.