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Romney tempers criticism of justices

Says he targeted lack of precedent

A day after he accused justices on the Supreme Judicial Court of legalizing gay marriage to please ''their like-minded friends in the communities they socialize in," Governor Mitt Romney sought to portray his comment yesterday as a generic criticism of their legal approach.

The Republican chief executive said the four justices who authored the 2003 majority opinion were not so much reflecting the views of their particular social circles, but of the community at large. Instead, he argued, they should have rooted their opinion not in public opinion, but precedent and the state constitution.

''The judiciary should be grounded in the constitution and the law and precedents, and if there's going to be a change from that base, it should be made by the Legislature and the people," Romney told reporters after attending a Veterans Day ceremony at the Statehouse.

''I think the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court erred by reading into our constitution something that was clearly not there," he said. ''They found a right that John Adams would be very surprised to suggest that it was found within our constitution . . . and they instead looked at their own values and the values of the community which they associate with, the community at-large."

He said he was not implying anything about where the justices live or with whom they socialize.

Romney's remarks in a speech Thursday in Washington prompted a rebuttal from Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, the state's top law enforcement officer and a candidate for next year's Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Reilly accused the governor of continuing a pattern of denigrating Massachusetts to out-of-state audiences and of playing up to conservative audiences to advance a possible presidential run in 2008. Romney spoke in Washington to the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention.

''It's one thing for the governor to disagree with their interpretation and decision; it's another thing to question their motivation," Reilly said. ''He has absolutely no right to do that. I don't always agree with their decision. But I don't question their motivation."

The landmark ruling was written by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and supported by Associate Justices John Greaney, Roderick Ireland, and Judith Cowin. Of them, Marshall, Ireland and Cowin were nominated to the bench by Republican governors, while Greaney was nominated by a Democrat.

Three justices disagreed: Francis Spina, Martha Sosman, and Robert Cordy. All were nominated by Republican governors.

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