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Late Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants honored in special SJC sitting

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court arrives to Hold Special Sitting to Present Memorial to the Honorable Ralph D. GantsScreenshot of Suffolk University virtual Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sittings

Speakers gathered to honor Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants in a special Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sitting Thursday afternoon, two years after his death from a heart attack in September 2020.

Attorney General Maura Healey, Harold Koh, a Yale professor, lawyer, and Gants’s former roommate, and attorney Gavin Alexander, Gants’s former law clerk, were among those who gathered at John Adams Courthouse to celebrate Gants’s remarkable career.

“We come together today to pay tribute to Chief Justice Gants, a brilliant justice known for his keen intellect, wellspring of compassion and deep commitment to access to justice,” Healey said. “I remember him as a person of true vision, kindness, and empathy.”

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The court typically holds such honors for a late chief justice soon after their death. But Gants’ ceremony, held on his birthday, was delayed because of the pandemic. The hour-long special sitting was also livestreamed for public viewing by Suffolk University Law School.

Gants was appointed as the 37th Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in July of 2014 and served until his death Sept. 14, 2020. He was 65. Before that, he was the associate justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court for more than a decade, and was the administrative justice of the Superior Court’s business litigation session in 2008.

Speakers remembered Gants’s sense of humor and intelligence, but most of all, his dedication to making the justice system more equitable.

“[Gants] would view litigants problems from the perspective of the most marginalized among us,“ Koh said of his friend of more than four decades. “What Ralph’s story tells us is in America, we do still have heroes. And one of them was this modest, exceptional man who left us decades too early.”

Friends and family have worked to honor his work to create a more equitable and accessible justice system. In December 2020, the Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Access to Justice Fund was launched to “advance access to justice, racial equity and criminal justice reform in the legal system,” according to the Massachusetts Bar Association’s website.

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Members of the Massachusetts legal community promise to continually advocate for a fair justice system, just like he did.

“We are his legacy. And we will not stop until we see justice realized in ways [Gants] had only begun to imagine,” said Alexander. “Where those without the privileges of wealth, whiteness, mental health, or other privileged status do not live in fear of the law, but feel protected by it.”






Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie