Roderick L. Ireland is a native of Springfield. He attended Lincoln University and received his J.D. from Columbia Law School, his Master of Laws from Harvard Law School, and his Ph.D. in Law, Policy, and Society from Northeastern University. Justice Ireland began his legal career in 1969 as a Neighborhood Legal Services attorney and then worked as a public defender with the Roxbury Defenders Committee. He was assistant secretary and chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance and chair of the Massachusetts Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds.
In 1977, Justice Ireland was appointed as a judge of the Juvenile Court; Governor Michael Dukakis appointed him to the Appeals Court in 1990. In 1997 Governor William F. Weld appointed him as an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. He became the senior associate justice in 2008. In 2010, Governor Deval Patrick appointed him as the thirty-sixth chief justice. Justice Ireland has been an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University since 1978 and on the faculty of the Appellate Judges Seminar at New York University Law School since 2001. He was the first African-American justice appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in its then 305-year history and its first African-American chief justice. Chief Justice Ireland retired from the Supreme Judicial Court in 2014.