One look at the Wikipedia page for Justice Scott Kafker `77, and it is easy to see that he is someone who should rightfully command both respect and attention.
After all, he has spent more than 30 years in public life, 22 of those serving as a judge. For 16 years, Kafker sat on the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, serving as its chief justice for two years before being appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2017, the state’s highest court. In his time on the bench, Kafker has written upwards of 1,000 decisions. He has also held positions as law clerk to state and federal judges, associate at a prominent Boston law firm, deputy chief legal counsel to the governor of Massachusetts, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Port Authority, professor of state constitutional law at Boston College Law School, coveted keynote speaker, and author of numerous book reviews, comments, and articles in leading legal journals.
One might even wonder how it is possible to accomplish so much. What is the key to his success?
“I keep a Cincinnati politeness instead of a Boston edge,” says Kafker.
And while he has lived in Massachusetts for 40 years and says it has been ages since he has been back to Cincinnati, his loyalties are still to Cincinnati sports teams. “My parents were both professors at UC and die-hard Bearcats fans.” His mom, Serena, even taught at Cincinnati Country Day School and Hillsdale before attending law school herself.
As one of seven justices on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Kafker says he pursued being a judge because he wanted to do justice. “When you're a lawyer you do what your client asks – as long as it's legal – even when they goofed up. In this job, my only duty is to do justice, without fear or favor, according to the law. I’m also not an elected official, subject to any political pressures. I simply try to be fair and compassionate. I just have to do the right thing, which is a nice way to wake up every day.”
In his current role as associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, writing decisions is a big part of the job. “It’s like writing 25 term papers a year, and my favorite ones are when I have to dig into history or deal with dramatic changes in modern day life,” says Kafker.
All the issues that Kafker and his colleagues consider are serious as the court chooses, for the most part, which cases it decides to hear. “I find each case I’m working on to be the most interesting at the time. I’ve written a lot of constitutional law decisions, involving free speech and ballot questions, and many cases involving universities and hospitals, as education and health care are mainstays of the Massachusetts economy.”
His court also decides the most significant criminal cases – indeed any appeal of a first-degree murder conviction comes directly to his court. But Kafker reflects a quick wit and a sense of humor about his work. “I wrote one decision that received a lot of press attention about a golf course and errant shots hitting a neighboring home. The reporters referred to me as the ‘defender of the hackers’ because I said a golfer cannot reasonably control the direction of a golf balI.”
He believes that Country Day prepared him well for his career.
“The two school subjects most relevant to what I do are English and history, and I had spectacular people teaching me how to write and research. I still remember my terrific 4th grade teacher, who taught me how to outline. To this day, when I organize my opinions, I use the outline structure she taught me. My high school teachers were also incredibly rigorous. I got my highest grades in my first quarter at Amherst College and thought it was easier than high school; that’s how well Country Day prepared me for the next step in life.”
He said the school affected him in other ways as well, including his lifestyle.
“My whole life is still on CCDS time – I work until late afternoon and then I get in some kind of physical activity and then head home for dinner. A healthy mind and a healthy body was a big part of life at Country Day and I'm still conscious of it.”
During Kafker’s tenure at Country Day, Gordon Wright ’44 was the coach of a very successful tennis team. Kafker wanted to play tennis, but his parents were not wealthy and could not afford private lessons, so Gordon Wright gave him individualized instruction during tennis practice. “To have a highly regarded coach take an interest in me that early…I was very taken by that. But it was the norm at Country Day.”
As Kafker considered his options for college, he took into account the fact that his pen was mightier than his racket and focused on academics and developing as a writer. He wanted to go out west, but his parents would not let him go to California because they thought he would never come back. “My uncle attended and loved Amherst College and it was not too far from an ocean, so it seemed like a good choice for me.”
Most mornings these days, he commutes by boat to his office in downtown Boston. His wife, Lea Anne Copenhefer, is from Louisville (they met in law school) and is a successful lawyer. Both of his children, Matthew and Nicholas, now live on the west coast but attended Middlesex School for high school where “they got the best education imaginable, just like me.”
“At Country Day, you have this real opportunity with smaller classes and super teachers who are teaching you how to write and think in ways you will carry with you forever. There is so much from my time at Country Day that I carry with me. My advice to current students is to take it all in and to recognize in particular the talent in your peers. I learned an enormous amount from my fellow classmates and now they're running hospitals, starting high-tech businesses, and are even successful poets.”