Chief Justice Ireland: “There is no more noble or rewarding profession than being a lawyer”
Chief Justice, Boston Mayor Walsh celebrate profession, students at Law Day Banquet
(Boston, Revised-6/24/14) New England Law | Boston: The Honorable Roderick L. Ireland, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, treated members of the New England Law | Boston community to an insider’s view of his role in the state’s historic same-sex marriage legal battle during his Law Day Banquet remarks, which recalled the landmark decisions of his 35-year judicial career. Chief Justice Ireland ’92 (honorary), who is the 36th chief justice, will retire in July.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh welcomed the more than 700-strong gathering, noting, “Our city has produced some of the great legal minds in American history.” He saluted law students, practitioners, and the law itself, calling it “a collection of our shared values.”
The event at the Boston Marriott Copley Place was attended by students, faculty, alumni, and guests, including many of the leaders of the Massachusetts legal community, such as U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz ’12 (honorary); former U.S. Attorney and New England Law trustee Wayne A. Budd ’81 (honorary), ’89 (honorary); former Attorney General Tom Reilly; Supreme Judicial Court Justices Margot Botsford ’11 (honorary), Robert J. Cordy ’04 (honorary), and Ralph D. Gants; Chief Justice Angela M. Ordoñez, Massachusetts Probate and Family Court; Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo, Jr. ‘84, Boston Municipal Court; other current and retired state and federal judges, and district attorneys for several counties.
Protectors of the Rule of Law
In his keynote speech, Chief Justice Ireland congratulated students for attending “a wonderful school. You have great professors and caring administrators, and I know that you are receiving a first-class legal education.”
“I hope you know that there is no more noble or rewarding profession than being a lawyer,” he added. “Lawyers are the stewards and protectors of the rule of law, and it is the rule of law that makes it possible for all of us to enjoy the rights, privileges, and freedoms that we exercise each and every day.”
Leading the way
Reflecting on the thousands of cases that he has heard, he singled out two from the Commonwealth’s same-sex marriage debate of a decade ago: Goodridge v. Department of Public Health and Cote-Whitacre v. Department of Public Health.
“I hope you will think about how, on occasion, our profession can be a mechanism for social change,” he urged students, before providing a detailed recounting of the legal and political controversies that resulted in legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Having faced down death threats and bitter opposition to his decisions, Chief Justice Ireland said he was proud that “…our state has lead the way on a very important topic that has taken on international proportions and epitomizes our country’s ongoing challenge, to ensure, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and equality for all of its citizens.”
He prefaced “equality” with a dramatic pause, eliciting one of many rounds of hearty applause.
A pioneer on the Supreme Judicial Court
Chief Justice Ireland was appointed an associate justice to the court in 1997 by Governor William F. Weld. In 2008, he became the senior associate justice, and in 2010, he was appointed chief justice by Governor Deval Patrick. Before his appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court, he served as a judge of the Juvenile Court (1977–1990), after which he was appointed an associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court (1990–1997). He is the first African American to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court and the first African American chief justice.
Chief Justice Ireland began his legal career in 1969 as a Neighborhood Legal Services attorney, then worked as a public defender with the Roxbury Defenders Committee. He was assistant secretary and chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance and chair of the Massachusetts Board of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds.
Law Day: An annual celebration
Law Day was established in 1958 by proclamation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Celebrated annually by the nation’s legal community and the general public, it promotes awareness of our country’s laws and justice system and the role they play in maintaining our nation’s freedoms.
Recent Law Day Banquets at New England Law have featured Supreme Court Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; U.S. Senator Scott Brown; Governor Howard Dean; U.S. Representative Niki Tsongas; former chief UN weapons inspector, Dr. Hans Blix; and former federal Court of Appeals judge and solicitor general Kenneth Starr.
- Despite it all, we got gay marriage right, Boston Herald.com, April 5, 2014
- Video clips from the event on New England Law's YouTube channel