The Courts They Are a-Changin’

By John Grimm

Tuesday was an election night full of historic firsts for Maryland—including the first Black governor[1] and attorney general,[2] the first South Asian woman lieutenant governor,[3] and the first woman to win statewide state office independently.[4] It also marked the fruition of the seemingly quixotic legislative project of giving Maryland’s appellate courts names that make sense. By a margin of 73% to 27%, voters approved a constitutional amendment changing the name of the state’s highest court from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Maryland (and the title of its jurists from judge to justice), and the state’s intermediate appellate court from the Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court of Maryland.

The name change has been years in the making. I wrote about it, and why it made a lot of sense, back in 2019,[5] and it was not a newfangled idea even then. Now that it’s a reality, there are a number of fascinating practical questions. When will the courts’ names officially change? Is it more or less complicated than changing all the highway signs with the governor’s name?[6] If you have a brief due soon, how do you caption it? Has anyone alerted the Bluebook?

I think the new change is exciting, and even though the courts’ names don’t really affect people’s lives, taking the names seriously enough to update them is an important way to recognize how much the courts do matter in people’s lives. I am sure that some people—362,685 of them, apparently—will miss the old names, and regret the loss of something that made Maryland’s high court stand out (but it’s not like the red robes are going anywhere). That’s understandable, and changing traditions is hard, but I think this change is a good one. I guess you could say that, for me at least, the new names hold a certain…special appeal.







3 responses to “The Courts They Are a-Changin’

  1. Anonymous says :

    And perhaps more importantly for your readership here – what does one put on their resume when they clerked for the Maryland Court of Appeals? Change it to Supreme Court of Maryland, formerly Court of Appeals?

  2. Paul S. says :

    This endeavor struck me as a solution to a problem that did not exist, or existed in only a few minds. I read your prior blog post and remain puzzled. What is the rational basis for this change? Who was confused by this? Is this a cause of concern of jurists and attorneys and the general public in New York?

    • John G. says :

      Periodic incremental change is necessary to keep legal institutions accessible and comprehensible to the public. The problem was not that the names were confusing, but that they were misdescriptive (which I don’t think anyone disagrees with). You could call it the Maryland Court of Lollipops and Unicorns and nobody would be *confused* about which court you were referring to, but it plainly wouldn’t accurately convey either the court’s importance or its role, and there is a value to making sure that the names of public institutions accurately describe their purpose. I also believe the names were more confusing than you might realize. I have seen even Maryland-barred attorneys who don’t practice regularly in Maryland state court struggle with the courts’ names. So I would flip the question: what’s the rational basis for keeping an antiquated name that no longer reflects an institution’s purpose?

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