Roderick L. Ireland is Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Lincoln University, Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School, Master of Laws from Harvard Law School, and Doctor of Philosophy in Law, Policy and Society from Northeastern University.
He began his legal career in 1969 as a Neighborhood Legal Services attorney. In 1971 he founded, along with attorney Wallace Sherwood (who later taught at the SCCJ for 35 years), the Roxbury Defenders Committee, a public defender program that provided free legal services in criminal cases. In 1975 he was appointed the Assistant Secretary and Chief Legal Counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance, and in 1977, the Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds. He then served as a judge for 37 years, sitting in the Boston Juvenile Court from 1977 to 1990, the Massachusetts Appeals Court from 1990 to 1997, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1997 to 2014. When he was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997, he became the first African-American to sit on that bench in its over three hundred year history. In 2010 he became the Court’s first African-American chief justice.
Ireland served as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (formerly the College of Criminal Justice) from 1978 to 2014. He also taught at Harvard Law School, Boston University Law School, Northeastern University School of Law, and the University of Massachusetts in Boston. In addition, he has been on the faculty of New York University Law School’s Appellate Judges Seminar since 2001. He is the author of a two volume treatise on Massachusetts Juvenile Law published by Thomson/Reuters in its Massachusetts Practice Series (the first edition was published in 1993 and the second edition in 2006), as well as several law review articles.
As one of the four justices who voted in favor of same-sex marriage in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (2003), the nation’s very first case in which a state supreme court declared same-sex marriage constitutional, he has lectured and spoken on that topic a number of times, including giving the Sixteenth Annual Justice William J. Brennan Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice at New York University School of Law entitled, “In Goodridge’s Wake: Reflections on the Political, Public and Personal Repercussions of the Massachusetts Same-Sex Marriage Cases.”
Ireland has received a number of honors and awards, including honorary degrees from a number of colleges and law schools, 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 the 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); the Massachusetts Judge’s Association President’s Award for Judicial Excellence (2013); the Great Friend of Justice Award from the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (2008); the Judicial Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Bar Association and Lawyers Weekly Newspaper (2001); the Judicial Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (1999); the St. Thomas More Award from Boston College Law School (1998); the Judicial Excellence Award from the Massachusetts Judges Conference (1996); the Distinguished Judicial Service Award from the Boston Bar Association (1990); and the Boston Covenant Peace Prize (1982).
His interests include criminal law, juvenile law, and constitutional law. Of particular interest, given his experience as chief justice of the SJC, is studying both the theory and the reality of how government works, with a focus on the interplay of the judiciary with the legislative and executive branches, as well as with external entities such as the business community and the media. He is also very interested in diversifying the judiciary at all levels through increased training programs, as well as scholarship and fellowship opportunities for minorities, and is president of The Justice George Lewis Ruffin Society, sponsored by Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The Ruffin Society is an organization that supports and uplifts minority professionals in the criminal justice system and the legal profession in general.
In 2017 Chief Justice Ireland was asked by the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Honorable Robert DeLeo, to be his personal policy advisor on issues related to criminal justice reform.