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First Black justice sworn in to Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Rick Lawrence served as a district court judge in Maine for 22 years before becoming the state's first Black associate justice for Maine's highest court.

AUGUSTA, Maine — History was made in Augusta Wednesday as longtime district court judge Rick Lawrence was sworn in to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, becoming the first Black person to do so.

"Literally, this a historic day for the state of Maine, and I'm incredibly blessed and fortunate to be a part of it," Lawrence said. 

Lawrence will serve as an associate justice on the state's highest court. In April, he was confirmed unanimously by the Maine Senate to assume the role. 

"Twenty-two years working in the 'people's court' make this individual a valued appointee and a valued member of the court," Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said before formally swearing in Lawrence.

"While Rick Lawrence brings along a wealth of legal experience, one any judge should aspire to, 22 years of a spotless record on the Maine District Court, he also brings life experiences that we treasure as well. That will become an asset, that are an asset, as a human being and a judge," Mills said. 

Lawrence will be replacing Justice Ellen Gorman, who announced in January 2021 that she would be retiring. According to State Court Administrator Amy Quinlan, Lawrence will begin sitting on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court next week unless recused from a case. Lawrence is now slated to hear his first oral arguments on May 9.

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, attended the swearing-in to witness the historic moment herself.

"As a 9th generation African American Mainer, I cannot think of a greater moment that I have spent in the last six years in this building and in the capacity of the Maine State Legislature," Ross said, who was overcome with emotions after the ceremony.

"I am overwhelmed with pride and know that I was really fortunate to have witnessed this moment in history," Ross added.

Lawrence briefly spoke following his swearing-in and said he was already beginning to get to work.

"Let me note that I just a few moments took an oath to support the U.S. and Maine constitutions and to faithfully discharge the duties of an associate justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. I promise the people of this great state that I will work tirelessly on their behalf to do so," Lawrence said. "And consistent with that process, I have a stack of briefs that I need to complete going through, and I have to get back to work. Thank you all."

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has seven justices presided by the chief justice. The remaining six justices are known as associate justices.

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