Gov. Deval Patrick Appoints Mass. First Black Chief Justice

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Deval Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, on Thursday nominated Roderick L. Ireland to be the first black chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Ireland, currently the senior associate justice on the high court, would replace the retiring Chief Justice Margaret Marshall if he’s confirmed by the Governor’s Council. Patrick made the announcement at a Statehouse press conference.

After noting that Marshall was the court’s first female chief justice, Patrick said, “We are making history again today.”

Ireland, a native of Springfield, said, “My nomination says that anything is possible no matter where you come from or what your background is.”

The chief justice administers the seven-member court and oversees the Massachusetts trial and appellate court systems.

A key power of the chief justice is the authority to decide which justice writes an opinion. Marshall reserved that for herself in 2003 when she authored the court’s 4-3 decision to make Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage.

In nominating Ireland, Patrick also gets a second appointment to the court. If he’s confirmed, Patrick will get to pick Ireland’s replacement as associate justice.

Marshall announced her retirement in July, saying she wanted to spend more time with her ailing husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis. Patrick asked her to stay until after Tuesday’s election to avoid politicizing his selection. The governor, a Democrat, ended up winning a second term.

Ireland was appointed to the court in 1997 after having previously served on the Massachusetts Appeals Court for seven years and the Boston Juvenile Court for almost 13 years.

He received his bachelors from Lincoln University, his juris doctorate from Columbia University Law School, a masters from Harvard Law School and a doctorate from Northeastern University.

All court nominees in Massachusetts have to be approved by the Governor’s Council, a nine-member panel led by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.

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