This afternoon, the Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed the applicants seeking to fill the vacancy created by Judge Meredith’s retirement from the Court of Special Appeals. The Commission nominated these four:
Jeremy Mark McCoy (Assistant Attorney General, General Assembly Counsel)
William Edward Nolan (U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division)
Honorable Laura Sue Ripken (Anne Arundel County Circuit Court)
Edward Hutchinson Robbins, Jr. (Miles & Stockbridge)
Before COVID cut the 2020 Session short, the Maryland General Assembly was once again considering a constitutional amendment to change our highest court’s name from the Court of Appeals of Maryland to the Supreme Court of Maryland. As for our intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, proponents were considering one of two alternatives—the Maryland Appellate Court or the Appellate Court of Maryland. The name-change movement appeared to be gaining real traction, and I would expect to see renewed proposals.
The legal historian in me likes the link to the Court of Appeals’ storied past, just like I love the judges’ red robes. But the name is confusing. In nearly all states, the highest court is called the “Supreme Court of [state],” and the intermediate appellate court is called the “Court of Appeals of [state].” Those names are descriptive and intuitive.
Our courts’ names, while nowhere near as confusing as New York’s, are confusing to Marylanders and non-Marylanders alike. There’s nothing intuitive about a system where we call our highest court the Court of Appeals and our intermediate court the Court of Special Appeals. I often have to remind my clients (lawyers and laypeople alike) which court is which. My very first post on this blog collected instances of Maryland federal courts accidentally referring to the Court of Appeals as the Maryland Supreme Court. And when I Tweet about Maryland appeals, I usually refer to the Court of Appeals as the “Maryland high court,” largely to avoid confusion.
But I have concerns about the proposed names, as a matter of practice and historical continuity. My proposal would be to rename them as follows:
- The Supreme Court of Appeals of Maryland
- The Court of General Appeals of Maryland
The Supreme Court, in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berrau, recently addressed religious institutions’ authority to make personnel decisions, and the extent to which those decisions are subject to government regulation, secular law, and ultimately judicial oversight. Last month, in Vaughn v. Faith Bible Church of Sudlersville, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals faced similar issues. James Vaughn was the pastor of a newly-formed Baptist Church—until the church’s board of trustees fired him, due in part to his leaving a gun unattended at the church, his opposition to forming a church school and camp, and his lack of organizational skills. Vaughn responded by suing the church, but the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County sided with the church, concluding that the trustees acted within their authority when they voted to fire him. Vaughn pressed on, appealing that decision. He fared no better, however, with the appellate court in Annapolis than he had with the trial court in Centreville.Read More…
Yesterday the Court of Appeals granted review in three civil cases and one criminal case. The civil appeals run a wide range: family law, administrative law, and local governments’ tort liability. The list is below, with the questions presented and links to the Court of Special Appeals opinions.Read More…