The Maine Senate made history Tuesday when members voted unanimously to confirm District Judge Rick Lawrence to the state’s highest court.

Lawrence will be the first Black justice to sit on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. His confirmation came days after a favorable recommendation from the Joint Standing Committee of the Judiciary.

“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to serve on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, an appointment that comes with formidable responsibility and unparalleled opportunity to serve the people of our great state,” Lawrence said in a statement released by Gov. Janet Mills’ office. “I promise to work tirelessly to serve the people of Maine and to administer justice fairly and impartially to the people of Maine, just as they deserve.”

Lawrence has been a district judge since 2000, when he was the first Black man appointed to the bench in Maine. He has spent more than two decades presiding over thousands of cases in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, dealing with housing, crime, domestic relations, monetary damages and family law.

In April 2020, he became deputy chief of the District Courts, taking responsibility for handling staffing shortages, public safety concerns and technology needs that arose during the pandemic.

He obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. Before Harvard, Lawrence worked for large companies, including Procter & Gamble and Prudential. After law school, he joined one of Maine’s most prominent legal firms, then known as Pierce Atwood, Scribner, Allen, Smith & Lancaster, and was an attorney for UnumProvident Life Insurance Co.


Mills announced Lawrence as her nominee in early March. After the Senate’s vote Tuesday, she said that Lawrence will be an “exceptional” justice.

“I am honored to have made this historic nomination, and I congratulate Judge Lawrence on his confirmation. I believe his service on our highest court will greatly benefit the people of Maine,” Mills said in the statement from her office.

During his confirmation hearing Friday in front of the Judiciary Committee, Lawrence recalled for Maine lawmakers his upbringing in western Massachusetts during the civil rights movement. He said he was drawn to court cases from the movement that had a direct impact on his family and other people of color.

Lawrence also shared with lawmakers his experience working on cases dealing with family matters. 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.

Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, told senators Tuesday that Lawrence has “shared his kindness, intelligence and wisdom with Mainers” during some of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, told senators that he was a student in a class that Lawrence taught at the University of Maine School of Law on district courts.


“I certainly learned a lot from Judge Lawrence in that capacity, and I know that he’s incredibly well-regarded by the Maine Bar,” Stewart said.

And Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, read Lawrence’s application letter to the governor out loud before sharing his own experiences in family court with the Senate. Hickman is the first Black lawmaker in Maine to serve in both the House and Senate.

“Judge Lawrence has decades of experience in the court that is near and dear to my heart, as an adoptee,” Hickman said. “I know the vital importance of family court services, especially to protect all our children from neglect and abuse. It brings pure joy to my heart to see such an esteemed candidate nominated for this position.”

Hickman and others have referenced the confirmation last week of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she will be the first Black woman to serve.

Lawrence and Mills visited both Legislative chambers Tuesday morning. Following the vote in the Senate, the two made a surprise visit to the House floor.

After being introduced by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, Lawrence walked with Mills to the front of the House and received an extended standing ovation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Mills will swear Lawrence in later this month. This is her fourth nominee to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court since taking office in 2019. The Senate has confirmed all of her nominees, including that of Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill in 2021.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.

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