By Niki Denison
In October, the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) recognized Geraldine Hines ’71 with a 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award.
The award is the highest honor bestowed by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Since 1936, WAA has been presenting the awards to the most prestigious graduates of the University of Wisconsin for their professional achievements, contributions to society, and support of the university.
Geraldine Hines grew up in the Mississippi Delta, where she came of age in the segregated South. She arrived at the University of Wisconsin Law School from Tougaloo College, a historically black liberal arts college, during the politically and racially chaotic period of the Vietnam War. She had already decided on a career as a civil rights lawyer, and after a meeting with Jim Miles, an advocate for diversity at UW Law School, Hines became one of four black students in the Class of 1971.
“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. 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.”
This lesson has informed her work throughout her career as she has taken on unpopular civil rights cases. Upon graduation, she took a job as a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, where she worked in prisoner’s rights litigation. After completing a fellowship on policy initiatives addressing police misconduct in communities of color, she became the staff attorney at the Harvard University Center for Law and Education, litigating civil-rights cases related to discrimination in education. Then, in private practice, she continued to fight for civil rights as a founding partner in New England’s first law firm created by women of color, Burnham and Hines.
In 2001, Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci appointed Hines to the Superior Court as an associate justice. Twelve years later, she was appointed an associate justice of the Appeals Court. Hines has been active in organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and she has observed elections and investigated human-rights abuses in both Africa and the Middle East. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University Law School since 1980.
Hines became the first black woman on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in July 2014. In his nomination, Governor Deval Patrick said, “At both the Superior Court and the Appeals Court, she’s been a beloved and respected colleague, praised by judges and lawyers alike, for being smart, prepared, fair, tough, decisive, warm, thoughtful, and gentle — all at the same time.”