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Massachusetts' high court confirmation hearing will give Western Mass. a voice, but not a nominee

Gov. Maura Healey takes reporters' questions Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 about the state budget, the migrant housing crisis, and her nomination of Gabrielle Wolohojian to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Sam Doran
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SHNS
Gov. Maura Healey takes reporters' questions Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 about the state budget, the migrant housing crisis, and her nomination of Gabrielle Wolohojian to the Supreme Judicial Court.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court nominee Gabrielle Wolohojian will be in the headlines this week. Wolohojian’s nomination has been questioned by some because of her previous relationship with Gov. Maura Healey. On this, the governor deflected questions, and cited Wolohojian’s record, underlining that Wolohojian was recommended by the (five people on the) Supreme Judicial Court nominating commission. Chris Liskinski of the State House News Service lays out what is known about that commission.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: This commission is the kind of thing that governors always use to help them get a field of applicants for judgeships. In this case, a few of the figures on this five-person commission already have pretty close ties to the governor herself. Kate Cook, her chief of staff is on it. Paige Scott Reed, Healey's chief legal counsel, is on it. There are some other folks as well that round it out...but it is certainly noteworthy that a panel consisting partly of Healey's close allies came up with at least one name very closely linked to the governor herself in her personal capacity.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: So, Healey's pick must still be confirmed by the Governor's Council and its eight elected members from around the state. They’ll hold a hearing on Wednesday. So, what's expected? And is it likely to just be a glide path for Wolohojian into the court?
 
I don't know if I would say it's expected to be a glide path per se. It would be surprising if Wolohojian does not win this panel's confirmation, but she might face some tricky questions from councilors, particularly given how politically loaded the appointment has become.

First of all, let's just note she has spent more than a decade on the state's appeals court, so has a very long resume (of) significant qualifications that predate any of Maura Healey's time in elected office. But some of the councilors have already signaled that they are wondering what would happen if a case involving the governor in any kind of capacity, any decisions the governor made, were to go before a court featuring her ex-romantic partner. So, I think that the hearing itself could produce some really interesting headlines, and some pointed lines of questioning. But, given Wolohojian’s qualifications, I don't know if there's any real indication that she's in peril at this point.

So, an adjacent storyline that has some in western Mass. concerned is that the area has not been represented on the Supreme Judicial Court for nearly eight years now. Healey says candidates from across the state were considered. But Chris, doesn't that send a poor message to lawyers and judges out here about how much respect they have on Beacon Hill?
 
Yeah, I could certainly understand how folks in the Western Mass. legal landscape might feel watching two vacancies open up on the Supreme Judicial Court, and the governor pick two people from eastern Massachusetts that are very well known to her. Of course, the other [pick] went to Elizabeth “Bessie” Dewar, who served as solicitor general, first appointed to that by Governor Healey when she was attorney general. But, you know, this is kind of the way that politics works. There's always been more of a focus on folks in the eastern Mass., Beacon Hill, City Hall Arena. And unfortunately, it just seems to be continuing.

Let's change gears here and briefly talk about artificial intelligence. Its potential is seemingly limitless, as are concerns about it. An executive order from Governor Healey last week created a task force to study artificial intelligence and to advise the governor. What do we expect to come of this?

Yeah, I think that they're going to be working really on two different fronts at once. Artificial intelligence is the kind of thing that seems to offer a lot of potential. This panel is going to be looking at ways that the state could implement this new technology and encourage its use in the private sector to break new ground. But I'd also imagine that this task force is going to be asked to figure out what kind of safeguards and regulations need to be in place, especially as we continue to see headlines about some of the worrying ways that artificial intelligence could be used — privacy concerns, security concerns, things like that.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.