HBCU Alum becomes first African American chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court

Governor Deval Patrick announced this morning that he is nominating veteran Justice Roderick L. Ireland to be chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court, according to a source briefed on the nomination.

Ireland would be the first African-American chief justice of the state’s highest court. A Springfield native, the 64-year-old Ireland had already broken new ground as the first black justice to serve on the court when he was appointed in 1997.

Ireland, who was nominated originally to the court by former Republican Governor William F. Weld, is the most senior member on the bench of the oldest appellate court in the Western Hemisphere.

Known to his friends as “Rick,” Ireland earned an undergraduate degree from Lincoln University in 1966, his law degree from Columbia University Law School in 1969, and a master’s in law from the Harvard Law School in 1975. He also earned a doctorate in law, policy, and society from Northeastern University in 1998.

Ireland began his legal career as a public defender in Roxbury and then held a number of legal posts in the state government throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, he was named to the state Appeals Court and then elevated by Weld to the SJC seven years later. He is also currently an adjunct professor at Northeastern University.

Ireland grew up without exceptional means — at one point, a guidance counselor said he had a future as an auto mechanic — but he was surrounded by a close-knit family and community that pushed him to excel

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