BOSTON — After waiting until after the election to make a pick, Gov. Deval Patrick has selected Justice Roderick Ireland to be the new chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.
Ireland is no stranger to the SJC. He’s served as an associate justice on the court since 1997, having been appointed by then-Republican Gov. Bill Weld.
In announcing the elevation of Ireland to the role of chief justice Patrick had praise for his appointee.
“Justice Ireland knows this court and our court system well, having been a judge for 33 years, and for the last 13 years he has served as associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, where he is highly respected by his colleagues, and authored over 300 opinions,” Patrick said.
If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, Ireland will make history as the state’s first African-American Chief Justice of the SJC.
“My nomination says that anything is possible, no matter where you come from or what your background is,” Ireland said.
Ireland grew up in Springfield in the 1940s and 50s. A high school guidance counselor suggested he pursue a career as an auto mechanic.
But instead he went to college, and developed an interest in law at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which just happened to be the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
After law school at Columbia University, Ireland returned to Massachusetts. He worked here as a public defender, and then was nominated to the Boston Juvenile Court, where he served for 13 years.
Young people remain a priority for Ireland. He said he wants to see the courts be a positive influence on them, and hopes the judiciary can help reduce the high school drop out rate.
“I hope the court system can try to do some work with outreach to try to reach some kids, to try to get them to think about their choices and to get them to focus in on education,” Ireland said.
Ireland would only have four years to make his mark as chief justice before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
“I hope they’ll say that I did my best to see that people got a fair shake in the court system, that they had their day in court, that the systems worked the way they were supposed to,” Ireland said. “That they were respected and that people listened to what they had to say.”
People in the judicial community are pleased with Ireland’s nomination.
“This is exciting news. This is wonderful news,” said Massachusetts Bar Association President Denise Squillante. She predicts Ireland will be one of the leading SJC chiefs in history.
“He is an icon. He is much loved in the legal community,” she said. “This appointment will be good for the courts. It will be good for the legal profession, and it will be good for the citizens of the commonwealth.”
Squillante said Ireland has a wonderful demeanor and a focus of giving back to the community.
His nomination is also being praised by the chair of the Massachusetts Senate Judiciary Committee.
Before becoming a senator, Cynthia Creem was a member of the Governor’s Council that confirmed Ireland as an associate justice to the SJC 13 years ago. She said she was pleased to vote for him them, and wishes she had an opportunity to do so again now.
“One of the things that I looked at when I was on the Governor’s Council was a judge’s judicial temperament. I thought that was an important point, and I was pleased that he was so qualified, and that he had the temperament to be a member of the Supreme Court,” Creem said.
Confirmation hearings are expected in a few weeks. If Ireland is confirmed as chief justice, the governor will have to make another high court nomination to fill his position of associate justice.