Gov. Charlie Baker's most recent nominee to serve on the state's highest court first has to gain the approval of the eight-member Governor's Council, which grilled Judge Elspeth Cypher at a State House hearing on Wednesday.
Baker himself, faced with four slots to fill on the Supreme Judicial Court since taking office just over two years ago, has resisted making any guarantees that his nominees will adhere to specific philosophies — especially on abortion rights.
Many abortion rights activists attended the hearing Wednesday. They wanted to hear from the judge herself how she feels about upholding state laws providing access to abortion services and reproductive care. Cypher dispelled any vagueness over her position with her answer to the first question from the council.
"I believe that a woman has an absolute right to bodily integrity and that the right to choose is absolute ... It would be between her and her doctor, and that would be it," Cypher said.
The declaration seemed to satisfy the activists in the crowd, who sported purple shirts with the NARAL Massachusetts logo.
"Gov. Baker has said that he wouldn't guarantee that his nominees to the Supreme Judicial Court would be pro-choice and uphold settled law in Massachusetts. Obviously with the election of President Trump and his promise to dismantle Roe v. Wade and the right to privacy, it's something that we're concerned about," NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts executive director Rebecca Hart Holder said after Cypher's questioning on abortion.
Cypher also spoke of her own personal experience with one of the most historic decisions made by the SJC, the 2003 ruling to allow same-sex marriage. Cypher is married to her wife Sharon Levesque, and they have one son.
"My choice of life partner was now deemed valid in the eyes of the law. But most importantly it was protected, and my family was now protected," Cypher said.
Cypher is a former Bristol County prosecutor and has sat on the Appeals Court bench since 2000. If approved by the Council in the coming weeks, she would replace Justice Margot Botsford, who is retiring.
"I don't think about it as a left court, a centrist court, or a right court," Baker said at a press conference in February announcing Cypher's nomination. "I think of it as a court where people respect each other's opinions. Historically they have represented what I would describe as a wide swath of the commonwealth, and I think Justice Cypher will continue to add to that diversity."