Geraldine Hines JD’71 took her seat this year as the first African-American woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court. She traces her path to the judge’s bench directly back to her experience as one of four black students in the UW Law School’s Class of 1971, arriving on a campus convulsed by opposition to racism and the Vietnam War.
Soon after her arrival in 1969, Hines participated in the black student strike, which sought to focus the university’s attention on the needs of African-American students.
“I got right into activism my very first year,” Hines says. “It was a tumult. I … became very involved with the black student movement and politics in general. More importantly, Professor James Jones, the first black law professor at the Law School, taught me how law could be a tool for racial and social justice.”
That set the pattern that Hines has followed throughout her career: carrying on the struggle for racial justice through the law. “I took on all kinds of unpopular cases, never thinking, ‘I shouldn’t do this because I want to be a judge one day.’ I didn’t realize I was establishing a record of the kind of person that a governor would want to have on the bench.”
It was a challenge being a black woman lawyer in the late 1970s, when Hines worked on a highly publicized case of a black man accused of raping eight women that was tried in Brighton, Massachusetts. “The judge in that case would not accept me as an equal partner on the defense team,” says Hines. “He refused to allow me to participate in the conferences on the case.”
Hines turned the tables with a motion that led to the judge being disqualified from the case and replaced by another judge. When Hines was appointed to the Superior Court in 2001, she took the seat of the very judge who had been disqualified.
“People pay attention to the history of their seat around here,” she says. “He was a white, male product of his time who refused to accept a black woman as a legitimate participant in a case. Almost thirty years later, I was appointed to his seat. It shows you how things change.”
During those thirty years, Hines litigated civil-rights cases relating to discrimination in education as a staff attorney at the Harvard University Center for Law and Education, and then entered private practice, where she continued to litigate civil-rights cases as a founding partner in New England’s first law firm of women of color.
Hines admits that moving to the other side of the bench was a challenge. “I had always considered myself a zealous advocate,” she says. “But the judge, too, has an important role to play. At sixty-five, I’m still reaching for new opportunities to defend justice, and I’m happy about that.”