The death of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants on Monday sent shock waves through the legal and political community as many recalled his efforts to make the state's legal system more equitable.
"He had this really intentional, acute focus on the law and the role of the law in people's lives," said Attorney General Maura Healey on Boston Public Radio on Tuesday. "As devastating as this is to the judiciary, the legal community, and frankly to the residents of Massachusetts who really lose a voice of justice and a man of such good, it is our obligation to go forward and make good on those things."
Gants commissioned the Harvard Law School to examine the role of race in the state's criminal justice system. The report, issued last week, found that Black and Latino people face significant disparities in the system, from charging to sentencing, compared to their white peers. He had been active in the court's current examination of Gov. Charlie Baker's sweeping emergency powers amid the pandemic, and Healey said he was also deeply concerned with a looming eviction crisis once the current eviction moratorium ends.
Former Gov. Deval Patrick appointed Gants to the role in 2014, and told Boston Public Radio on Tuesday that the report serves as a mandate for Gants' colleagues to fulfill his legacy as a humanist.
"This is about how important it is for us to see people, and when I say that and when Justice Gants lived that, he saw all people, not just the mighty, but the meek as well," Patrick said. "Commissioning that report was right in character for him and, if I may humbly say, it'd be a fitting tribute to his work and his life and memory if his colleagues on the SJC saw through to implement recommendations that come from that report."
Healey echoed that characteriztion of Gants as a man who lived his practice as much outside the courthouse as within it, and recalled that he invited the courthouse parking lot staffers to his swearing in ceremony, as he'd built a rapport with them by often being the last person to leave the office at night.
Gants' death leaves another appointment open for Baker, who has quietly reshaped the court in a short period of time, and could now be in a position to have nominated the entire SJC.