Chief Justice Ralph Gants of Massachusetts’ top court dies
BOSTON (AP) — Chief Justice Ralph Gants of Massachusetts’ highest court has died more than a week after he suffered a heart attack, the court said Monday.
The associate justices of the Supreme Judicial Court announced Gants’ death in emailed statement. He was 65.
“Our hearts and prayers are with his family. We have no further information at this time,” the justices said.
Gants disclosed last week that he suffered a heart attack on Sept. 4 and underwent surgery to insert two stents in an occluded artery. The chief justice had said that he expected to be discharged soon and “to resume full duties, albeit initially on a limited basis.”
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by Gants’ death.
“He was a dedicated public servant of the highest order and sought to do justice his entire 40-year legal career,” Baker said. “He led the Supreme Judicial Court with intelligence, integrity and distinction. In his decisions and in his role as the leader of the Commonwealth’s judicial branch, he always worked to promote the public good.”
Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of Massachusetts’ public defender agency, called Gants’ death a “devastating loss to the court, the legal system and the commonwealth.”
“Chief Justice Gants was a wonderful person who treated everyone with respect and dignity,” said Benedetti of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. “He was a brilliant, thoughtful jurist who was fair to every litigant who appeared before him.”
The New Rochelle, New York, native was appointed as an associate justice of the court in 2009 and was sworn in as the chief justice by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014.
Before that, he served for more than a decade on the Massachusetts Superior Court. He also worked as a federal prosecutor and was chief of the Public Corruption Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts before going into private practice.
Patrick called Gants’ death a “profound loss.”
“He was a learned, rigorous, serious and sincere jurist who faithfully honored constitutional principles and also saw the people behind the docket numbers,” Patrick said in a statement. “He was also wicked funny, taking his work but never himself too seriously.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins called Gants the driving force behind a report issued last week on racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.
“Chief Justice Gants was more than a skilled and thoughtful jurist,” Rollins said in a statement. “He was a deeply compassionate and wonderful person who dedicated his career to serving the community.”
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, described Gants as “a courageous leader on civil rights and civil liberties” and “a fierce believer in the need to address racial disparities in the criminal legal system.”
As leader of Massachusetts’ top court, Gants had sought to explain troubling racial disparities in incarceration rates and commissioned an unprecedented study by Harvard Law School researchers that was released last week.
The researchers found that Black and Latino defendants in Massachusetts tend to face more severe initial charges than white defendants and get longer prison sentences.
After the study was released, Gants said it would help guide the court as it works to “eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.”
Amid nationwide protests this summer after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Gants and his colleagues wrote a letter urging fellow judges and lawyers to confront and root out the inequality and bias in the criminal justice system.
“And as members of the legal community, we need to reexamine why, too often, our criminal justice system fails to treat African-Americans the same as white Americans, and recommit ourselves to the systemic change needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all,” Gants and the other justices wrote.