MassINC Statement on Passing of Chief Justice Gants

The passing of Chief Justice Ralph Gants is a terrible loss at a time when the Commonwealth hungers for leadership in the long struggle to achieve greater equality. Justice Gants fearlessly confronted structures that undermine the ideals of equal justice. In his first State of the Judiciary address, he took on racially-biased mandatory-minimum sentences, asking:

Who would support a sentencing system that ignores the circumstances of the crime, the role of the offender in the commission of the crime, and the background of the defendant? And why would we require judges to impose sentences that are not informed by the social science evidence regarding what sentences reduce the risk of recidivism and what sentences may increase that risk?  

Undeterred by the criticism he received for raising such questions, Justice Gants persevered. In his 2016 State of the Judiciary address he called on Harvard Law School to identify the drivers behind yawning racial disparities in incarceration. Standing up for those whose concerns had been brushed aside, he said: “We need to learn the truth behind this troubling disparity and, once we learn it, we need the courage and the commitment to ‘handle’ the truth.”

Sadly, the truth arrived just days before Justice Gants’ passing. He called the report “a ‘must read’ for anyone who is committed to understanding the reasons for such disparities and taking action to end them.” Justice Gants never failed to live up to our highest ideals. His words and inspiration will live on as we work to achieve a more perfect Commonwealth.

– Greg Torres, Chairman, MassINC Board

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