Congratulations to District Court Judge Rick Lawrence, whose nomination by Gov. Mills to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court received unanimous approval in the state Senate on Tuesday.

And congratulations to the state of Maine for finally reaching an important and long-overdue milestone in the fight for racial justice.

Lawrence will not only come to the court with an impressive resumé that includes 22 years on the bench. He will also be the first African American to serve on Maine’s highest court, adding a perspective on cases and an example for young people that has been missing until now.

Lawrence, 66, has already had a remarkable career. A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Lawrence worked for one of Maine’s top law firms and as in-house counsel for Unum before turning to public service. He was Maine’s first African American judge when he was appointed to the District Court by then-Gov. Angus King in 2000. Now, at an age when some people are considering retirement, Lawrence is continuing to break barriers.

Maine’s District Court is where some of the most sensitive matters that affect children and families are adjudicated. When he is sworn in for a seven-year term next month, the state supreme court will benefit from the presence of someone so recently removed from the front lines who knows from personal experience the profound ways that the law can affect real people’s lives.

As chair of the Maine Judicial Branch’s advisory committee on children and families, Lawrence helped form the state’s guardian ad litem program, ensuring legal representation for children in the courts. He told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee that cases involving family matters are among the most important he’s ruled on.


The elevation of a Black man to such a prominent post could have an immediate impact, said Thomas Douglas, a civil litigator who co-chairs the recently created BIPOC lawyers’ section of the Maine State Bar Association, by making it easier to recruit other Black lawyers to come to Maine, statistically the whitest state in the union despite recent diversity gains.

And Lawrence’s confirmation could have a long-term impact as well. Just like the lifetime appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will become the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, the appointment of Lawrence will open the horizons for young people, expanding their notions of what is possible in their lives.

We look forward to the day when an appointee’s race is not considered an important fact about them, but we aren’t there yet.

Lawrence’s confirmation is a big step in the right direction. We expect that there will be other African American judges in Maine’s courts, but none of them will have to be the first.

Lawrence has done Mainers a favor by agreeing to take on this difficult and important role. His appointment is historic, and his service will benefit us all.

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