Judge Roderick Ireland was born on December 3, 1944 in Springfield, Massachusetts to Helen Garner Ireland and George Lovelace Ireland. Ireland received his B.A. degree in 1966 from Lincoln University, his J.D. degree from Columbia Law School in 1969, his L.L.M. degree from Harvard Law School in 1975, and his Ph.D. degree in Law, Policy and Society from Northeastern University in 1998.
Ireland began his career as a staff attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services in New York City in 1969. In 1970, he worked as a staff attorney at the Harvard Center for Law and Education. Ireland cofounded the Roxbury Defenders Committee with Wallace Sherwood in 1971. In 1973, he worked as a hearing officer at the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission. Ireland joined the offices of Burnham, Stern and Shapiro in Boston in 1975, before being named assistant secretary and chief legal counsel at Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance. Additionally, he served as chair of the Massachusetts Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability, Policies, and Bonds. Nominated to the Boston Juvenile Court by Governor Michael Dukakis in 1977, Ireland began teaching criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University in 1978. In 1990, he was nominated to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. In 1997, Ireland was the first African American appointed to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. From 2001 to 2016, Ireland taught in the Appellate Judges Seminar at New York University Law School and worked as an advisor and teacher for the Supreme Judicial Court’s Judicial Youth Corps. In 2003, he was among four of seven justices who ruled in favor of legalized same sex marriage in Massachusetts. Nominated by Governor Deval Patrick, Ireland became the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2010.
Ireland authored, Massachusetts Juvenile Law, (1993, 2007) a two volume treatise published by West Publishing. Ireland served on the board of trustees for Suffolk University in 2013.
In 1979, Ireland was one of three black men selected for ‘Ten Outstanding Young Men for 1979’ by the U.S. Junior Chamber. In 1982, Ireland was awarded the Boston Covenant Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to promote racial justice. Ireland was awarded the Haskell Cohn Distinguished Award for Judicial Service by the Boston Bar Association in 1990. He was also awarded the St. Thomas More Award by Boston College Law School. In 2001, the Massachusetts Bar Association and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly newspaper awarded Ireland the Judicial Excellence Award.
He received honorary doctorate of law degrees from several universities and received the President’s Award at the 2016 Massachusetts Judges Conference. In 2015, Ireland’s childhood street was renamed in his honor and he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. In 2017, Hampden County Hall of Justice in Springfield, Massachusetts was renamed Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse in his honor.
Ireland and his wife Alice, have three children: Elizabeth, Michael and Melanee.
Roderick Ireland was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 12, 2018.