Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of legal change. The Bay State led the abolitionist movement in the U.S., helped delineate the government’s role in the family, and expanded the rights of minority citizens nationwide.
Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to effectively abolish slavery when it included a bill of rights in its 1780 state constitution, stating: “all men are born free and equal, and have . . . the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberty.” Although the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution did not explicitly outlaw slavery, it did serve as the basis for a series of state court decisions known as the 1783 Quock Walker case, in which the legality of slavery in the state was successfully challenged.
Massachusetts again served a historic legal role in 1944, when a state law limiting the ability of minors to sell religious literature was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. In Prince v. Massachusetts, the Court held that parents do not have absolute authority over their children, and government may regulate the treatment and actions of minors in order to further their best interests.
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Massachusetts has continued to break new legal ground in recent years. In 2004, it legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the first state to do so nationwide, and the sixth jurisdiction to do so globally. In Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that the state cannot “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.” Rather than creating a new fundamental right to marry, the court found that based on due process and equal protection principles, the state lacked a rational basis for denying same-sex couples the ability to marry.
Massachusetts was also the first U.S. state to require its residents to hold health insurance. Under the state’s 2006 Health Reform Statute, residents must buy health insurance or pay an annual fine, and those who cannot afford coverage are subsidized by the state.
According to recent ABA statistics, as of 2008, there are 42,501 licensed and actively practicing attorneys in Massachusetts. Although Massachusetts does not require its lawyers to fulfill continuing legal education requirements, many lawyers choose to enhance their professional development by joining the Massachusetts Bar Association. A good way to make sure that your lawyer is in good standing with the legal community is to join a lawyer matching service such as LegalMatch. LegalMatch is a free tool that clients can use to find the best qualified lawyers in their area.