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Mass. Supreme Judicial Court Chief Roderick Ireland to Retire

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, the first African-American on the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, announced Monday that he is retiring.

Roderick's announcement means Governor Deval Patrick will have an opportunity to name a new head of the state's highest court before he leaves office next January, The Boston Globe reports.

Given the timing of Ireland's retirement, Patrick is uniquely poised to make a long-lasting impact on the composition of the Supreme Judicial Court.

Historic Opportunity

Ireland is slated to turn 70 in December, the mandatory retirement age for judges. As we expected, he's opting to take his pay bump and retire early on July 25, giving his successor a chance to settle in before the new term starts in September.

This will be Patrick's second opportunity to appoint a chief justice. If he promotes an associate justice and fills the vacancy, he will have appointed a majority of the seven justices on the court. No other Massachusetts governor has had such an opportunity, Martin Healy, chief operating officer and chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, told The Boston Globe.

Patrick promoted Ireland to chief justice in 2010. He will reportedly use the same selection process to find Ireland's replacement. Perhaps Fernande R.V. Duffly will make the cut? Duffly was nominated to the court in 2010 following the elevation of Ireland to Chief Justice. She is the first Asian American to serve on the court, making for an interesting -- and much needed -- potential diversity shakeup.

Roderick Ireland's Legacy

Ireland leaves a lasting legacy in the state's highest court. He served as the face of the court as it weighed in on a variety of high-profile issues, including:

  • Juvenile life sentences. Under Ireland, a former Juvenile Court judge, the court found it unconstitutional to sentence teenagers convicted of murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The decision paved the way for a massive overhaul of the way the state treats juveniles in the criminal justice system.
  • Cell phone privacy. Ireland doesn't seem to have a case of Senioritis. Just last month, the court ruled warrantless data requests for cell phone tracking was unconstitutional.
  • Same-sex marriage. Ireland joined the majority in the court's landmark decision in 2003 to legalize same-sex marriage. By contrast, he was the only dissenter when the court upheld then-Governor Mitt Romney's reliance on a 1913 law to ban non-resident same-sex couples from getting hitched in Massachusetts. (Side note: Patrick and the state legislature repealed that law six years ago.)

Outside of the confines of the courtroom, Ireland helped streamline the court system, actively participated in discussions on how to reform the Probation Department, and was a vociferous opponent of a bill limiting judges' discretion in sentencing habitual offenders.

Regardless of whom Patrick appoints -- someone from outside the bench, or an associate justice -- he certainly has some big shoes to fill.

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