IN SELECTING Ralph Gants as the new chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, Governor Patrick cemented his legacy of bringing diversity to the state judiciary. Gants, 59, will be the first Jewish chief justice in the SJC’s 322-year history. His predecessor Roderick Ireland, also appointed by Patrick, was the first black chief. Patrick also elevated Fernande Duffly and Geraldine Hines — both women of color — to the court, and chose the first openly gay justice, Barbara Lenk.
Indeed, most Massachusetts residents can see aspects of their own backgrounds in the seven SJC justices. But diversity shouldn’t be a credential in itself; life experiences aren’t a replacement for legal acumen and judgment. On that score, Patrick’s choices have reflected a preference for nominees with long legal careers and experience on the bench. There’s been no reaching for underqualified nominees just to make a statement about inclusion.
During his five years as an associate justice on the SJC, Gants, a former assistant US attorney and special assistant to the FBI director, impressed both supporters and skeptics with his methodical approach. He’s also well-liked in the legal community, as made clear by the multiple standing ovations he received at his swearing-in last week. And he has a buoyant sense of humor. After taking the oath, Gants thanked Patrick for appointing “not only the first Jewish chief justice, but also the first chief justice to play soccer in the Over the Hill league.”
For the SJC, evidently, there are still more firsts to come.