Appreciation: SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants Was a Friend to Chelsea

The sudden passing of Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Chief Justice Ralph Gants came as a shock to most in Chelsea on Sept. 14, as he was a frequent visitor in his tenure and had a distinct interest in making justice through the courts accessible to Chelsea residents.

Gants most recently was the keynote speaker on a panel in 2019 about ‘Preserving the Rule of Law.’

Gants was also fully supportive of expanding the Courts in Chelsea with the drug court sessions and also the expanded Housing Court session. The following is an obituary from the Trial Courts.

Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants

Hon. Ralph D. Gants died unexpectedly on September 14, 2020, following a brief illness.  He is survived by his loving wife Professor Deborah Ramirez, his son Michael, and his daughter Rachel and their chihuahua Tig, all of Lexington.  He is also survived by his brother Attorney Fred Gants and his family of Madison, Wisconsin. He was predeceased by his parents Gustav Gants and Helaine Dreyfus Gants.  

Ralph Gants was born in New Rochelle, New York in 1954. He received his B.A. from Harvard College in 1976, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. The following year, he completed a Diploma in Criminology at Cambridge University in England.  In 1980, he earned a J.D. degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School where he was note editor of the Harvard Law Review. 

He began his legal career as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Eugene H. Nickerson and then served as a Special Assistant to FBI Director William H. Webster. He later was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts and Chief of the Public Corruption Unit before joining the Boston law firm formerly known as Palmer & Dodge LLP, where he practiced law until he was appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court by Governor William Weld. He taught at Harvard Law School, New England Law | Boston, and Northeastern University School of Law.  

Among his awards and honors were 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.  He also was awarded honorary Doctor of Law degrees from New England Law | Boston in 2015, and the University of Massachusetts School of Law – Dartmouth in 2016. 

When sworn in as Chief Justice, he said that one of the highest forms of praise his parents could give was to say that a man was a “good guy.”  He gave this example, “Jonas Salk created the vaccine for polio but he was a good guy.”  In that very sense, Chief Justice Gants, irrespective of all his great academic, legal and judicial achievements was a “good guy.”  He was a person of true kindness and compassion.

In one State of the Judiciary speech, Chief Justice Gants spoke about the principle from Judaism that every person has a duty to “heal the world.”  He worked hard every day to do his part to heal the world.  He cared deeply about the people who had never been given a fighting chance in this world – the poor, the uneducated, the victims of hatred and discrimination, immigrants, refugees and people being evicted from their homes.

In the wake of the Marathon bombing and the carnage and death it caused, misplaced and misguided anti-Islamic sentiment seized certain corners of this area.  Chief Justice Gants asked to address the leaders of the Islamic community at the Islamic Society of the Boston Cultural Center to reassure them that the U.S. Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution protected them from discrimination and acts of hatred.

Chief Justice Gants was passionately dedicated to fairness and justice.  As Chief Justice, ensuring equal access to justice was always at the top of his agenda. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is an appreciably better and more just place because of his life.

In his compassion, his respect for all human beings irrespective of their origins, and his devotion to equal justice for all people, Ralph Gants, who was taken from us with such painful suddenness, lived a life that was a testament to the nobility of the human mind and spirit at their best.

The Gants family has held private remembrances and will hold a public memorial event in the Spring. A fund to honor his memory will be established.

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