June 01, 2020
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Highlights of Leigh I. Saufley’s career

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley asks a question during a hearing in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on whether ranked-choice voting can be used in Maine's June 12th primary, Thursday, April 12, 2018, in Portland, Maine.

A transgender student’s right to use a school bathroom. The constitutionality of Maine’s Sex Offender Registry. Ranked-choice voting. The right to harvest rockweed on private property. Warrantless blood tests after fatal crashes.

Those are some of the major issues the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decided while Leigh I. Saufley served on the court.

Next week, Saufley will leave the bench to become dean of her alma mater, the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.

Infographic by Natalie Williams and Judy Harrison | BDN
Infographic by Natalie Williams and Judy Harrison | BDN

One of Saufley’s greatest strengths is her ability to hone in on the essential legal question, according to Portland attorney Daniel Murphy, who clerked for the chief justice in 2002.

“During her tenure on the bench, she heard thousands of appeals and authored countless thoughtful, well-reasoned opinions that affected many people and helped to forge the common law in the state of Maine,” he said Wednesday. “Chief Justice Saufley has a rare talent for isolating the essential issues in a given case and providing a fair, thoughtful decision to resolve the dispute. This is no easy task when one considers that litigated matters often involve a contest of competing versions of the truth and the law.”

Many of the opinions issued while she was on the court were routine matters that upheld lower courts’ opinions. But once in a while, they had a lasting impact on the state.

One of the most important decisions Saufley took part in was issued in January 2014, when the court ruled 5-1 that a transgender student had the right to use the school bathroom of the gender with which she indentified and not the gender identified at birth.

Bettina Strauss | AP
Bettina Strauss | AP
This image released by The CW shows Nicole Maines in a scene from "Supergirl." A study says there are a record number of LGBTQ characters on network TV series airing this season. Maines, a Maine transgender activist who won a discrimination lawsuit over using the girls' bathroom at her school, portrays the character Nia Nal. (Bettina Strauss/The CW via AP)

It was the first time any court in the nation had ruled it unlawful to force a transgender student to use the school bathroom designated for the sex they were born, according to the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders of Boston, which represented the girl and her family.

Other highlights of Saufley’s legal career are noted in the graphic.

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