BOSTON — Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants has died 10 days after suffering a heart attack, according to a statement from the Associate Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He leaves behind a spouse and two children.
“It is with deep sadness that the Associate Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court announce the death of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants,” the statement reads.
Gants underwent surgery to insert two stents into his heart at the beginning of September after he suffered a heart attack on September 4, the Chief Justice announced a week ago. The stents were placed in his occluded artery.
Born in 1954 in New Rochelle, N.Y., Gants served as the 37th Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for the last six years. Before being sworn in for the role during July 2014, Gants previously served as an Associate Justice for the Court since his appointment in early 2009 by Gov. William Weld.
He also served as an Associate Justice for the Massachusetts Superior Court for 11 years and was an Administrative Justice of the Superior Court’s Business Litigation Session in 2008. Additionally, the Chief Justice also was co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and was on the Board of Directors of the Conference of Chief Justices. He also was the chair of the Access and Fairness Committee.
During his time as a public servant, Gants was honored with numerous awards from the commonwealth and some of its associated institutions. He received the 2017 Massachusetts Bar Foundation Great Friend of Justice Award, the 2016 Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service, the Boston Bar Association Citation of Judicial Excellence, and the Suffolk Law School Public Service Award.
New England Law in Boston honored the Chief Justice with an honorary Doctor of Law degree in 2015, while the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth did the same in 2016.
A 1976 graduate of Harvard, Gants earned his Criminology degree from Cambridge University in England in 1977. He received his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude, and was note editor for The Harvard Law Review. He also was a professor at Harvard Law School, New England Law in Boston, and Northeastern University’s School of Law.
Gants served as a Special Assistant to FBI Director William H. Webster after beginning his career as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Eugene H. Nickerson. He also served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts and the Chief of the Public Corruption Unit. Before his appointment to the state’s Supreme Judicial Couty, Gants worked at Palmer & Dodge LLP, a Boston law firm.
Numerous officials and organizations throughout Massachusetts expressed their condolences for Gants following his passing on Monday.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker took to Twitter to share his feelings on Gants' death, saying he led the Supreme Judicial Court with, “intelligence, integrity and distinction.”
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Carol Rose, released a statement on the Chief Justice’s death, highlighting Gants' lion-like standing in the legal community.
“Justice Gants was a giant within the legal community, and a courageous leader on civil rights and civil liberties. He was a champion of access to justice for all communities in Massachusetts, a fierce believer in the need to address racial disparities in the criminal legal system, and a compassionate listener to every person who came before the court,” the ACLU’s statement reads.
Attorney General Maura Healey pointed to Gants' history as a judge in her statement on his passing, noting that the Chief Justice helped make Massachusetts a better place during his time as a public servant.
“Chief Justice Gants was an extremely hard-working, wise and courageous jurist. In his 22 years as a judge — including 11 years on the SJC — he recognized the fundamental importance of the law and the courts as instruments to make the Commonwealth a fairer and more just place,” her statement reads, in part. “As Chief Justice, he focused on how the legal system affects people’s lives, and consistently worked to expand access to justice and racial equity. More than anything, he was a person of true kindness and empathy.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she was shocked to learn of Gants' passing in her statement to the public. She went on to mention that the Chief Justice was one of the main forces in a report issued a week ago titled ‘Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal System by the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School.’
“Chief Justice Gants embodied the highest ideals of the field of law and of humanity itself – integrity and fairness,” Rollins wrote, in part. “He was one of the most brilliant, culturally-competent, and astute attorneys that the Massachusetts legal community has known. His loss leaves a void in our courts, our communities, and in the hearts of those who knew and had the pleasure to work with him.”
Andrew E. Lelling, the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, also released a statement on the Chief Justice’s passing.
“We are saddened by the passing of Chief Justice Gants," Lelling wrote. "He was an outstanding jurist and a good man. He will be missed.”
Mass. Senate President Karen E. Spilka called Gants, “An important voice in reforming our criminal justice system, his contributions will long be remembered as helping us move towards a more just Commonwealth.”
Georgia Katsoulomitis, the executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, referred to Gants as, “a fearless, tireless, and outspoken advocate for access to justice [for] all, he was a principled, fair, brilliant and visionary jurist.”
The State House News Service contributed to this report.
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