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Woman Becomes Mass. Chief Justice

October 13, 1999

BOSTON (AP) _ Justice Margaret Marshall was elevated to chief justice of Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday, becoming the first woman to head the nation’s oldest appellate court.

Ms. Marshall, a former chief counsel at Harvard University, overcame charges of anti-Catholic bias to win a 6-3 confirmation vote by the Governor’s Council, which votes on nominations by the governor.

``I follow in the footsteps of giants,″ Ms. Marshall said. ``I do so with humility, and with a deep commitment to the rule of law.″

Ms. Marshall, 54, a native of South Africa, was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1996. She was at Harvard at the time and had previously been in private practice.

Her nomination to head the 307-year-old court was marred when Cardinal Bernard Law raised concerns that she harbored anti-Catholic bias.

Law, who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, wrote last month to Gov. Paul Cellucci and said Ms. Marshall was ``open to serious charges of anti-Catholicism.″

He cited an incident in which Ms. Marshall, while at Harvard, chastised a professor who had used university stationery for a personal note with an anti-abortion message.

Catholic groups also feared she could not be impartial on abortion cases because she once served on an abortion clinic’s board of trustees. Ms. Marshall denied her personal views would affect her role as jurist.

Law later retracted his complaint after speaking with Ms. Marshall, who is Protestant.

``She gave me her assurance that she was not anti-Catholic,″ he said, ``and I have absolutely no reason to not accept her word on that.″

Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said Wednesday that Ms. Marshall had been misrepresented by her opponents and they had done a ``great injustice″ to her.

``I think this is almost a witchhunt,″ Devaney said. ``She does not legislate, she enforces legislation. She doesn’t advocate judicial legislation.″

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