Roderick L. Ireland was appointed to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1997, becoming the court’s first justice of African American descent. In December 2010, Justice Ireland was appointed to serve as Chief Justice of the court. Justice Ireland retired from the court in 2014.
Justice Ireland started his legal career in 1969, as a Neighborhood Legal Services attorney. In 1971, he and Wallace Sherwood founded the Roxbury Defenders Committee, a public defender program in Roxbury, a low income and predominantly minority neighborhood in Boston. In 1975, Ireland became the Assistant Secretary and Chief Legal Counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance, and in 1977, he became the Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds. Ireland’s judicial career started in 1977, when he was nominated as a judge on the Boston Juvenile Court. In 1990, he was nominated to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, where he served until 1997.
While on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Justice Ireland was known for leading noteworthy decisions, improving the court system, and diversifying the judiciary. In 2003, Justice Ireland was one of four justices who voted in favor of the landmark same-sex marriage case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. The Goodridge decision represented the country’s first unqualified court victory in the fight for marriage equality, and it laid the ground work for what is now the law of the land.
Justice Ireland currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. His career in academia started in 1978, when he became an adjunct faculty member in Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, a position he held from 1978 to 2014. Ireland also taught at other schools, including Harvard Law School, Boston University Law School, Northeastern University School of Law and the University of Massachusetts.
Among his many awards, Justice Ireland has received the Community Hero Award (2016) from Community Resources for Justice, the Judicial Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (2015); the Celebration of Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and Massachusetts Black Judges Conference (2015); Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association (2015); the Boston Bar Association’s Judicial Excellence Award (2014); the Boston NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall Award for Lifetime Achievement (2014); and the Massachusetts Judge’s Association President’s Award for Judicial Excellence (2013), along with honorary degrees from several colleges and law schools.
Justice Ireland was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1944. His father was a painting contractor and his mother was a school teacher. Ireland is married to Alice Ireland, and they have three children. Justice Ireland obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School, an LL.M from Harvard Law School, and a Ph.D. in Law, Policy and Society from Northeastern University. In 2017, the Hampden County Superior Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts was renamed in Justice Ireland’s honor. Justice Ireland has continued his involvement in the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, partnering with the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2017 on a criminal justice reform bill.