Appeals Court Judge Geraldine Hines is on her way to sit on the state’s highest court after all eight members of the Governor’s Council said Wednesday they plan to vote to confirm her for a seat on the Supreme Judicial Court.
Hines, 66, was unanimously approved by the same council members in January 2013 for the Appeals Court after serving on the Superior Court for 12 years.
Hines grew up in the segregated South and told council members during her 90-minute hearing, “I marvel that this day is even possible. I could never have imagined getting here from there, a place where the spirit-crushing regime of racial oppression claimed so many lives, so many possibilities, and even lives.”
Gov. Deval Patrick nominated Hines last month to fill a seat on the SJC opened by the elevation of Justice Ralph Gants to succeed retiring chief justice of the court Roderick Ireland. After the hearing, Patrick said he is not surprised the council will vote to confirm her.
“She is an extraordinary candidate; she’s an extraordinary judge and an extraordinary person,” Patrick told the News Service. “Obviously, it is not done until it’s done. And we’ll look forward to a favorable outcome next week. But we’re taking nothing for granted, and I think Judge Hines has shown this council not just that she is a capable, more than capable, a gifted judge, but she is also respectful of this process, and I want to be respectful as well.”
Council members joked about the speed in which they interviewed her and made their intentions public. They are expected to vote next Wednesday.
“When you go back and see Justice Gants will you tell him we kept you here for three days,” Councilor Terrence Kennedy said, referring to the three-day-long hearing held last month for Gants.
Hines said she is “absolutely giddy” at the prospect of serving on the court, which she described as a distinct honor because of its history and intellectual vitality. Hines said she believes she is qualified by temperament, experience and legal acumen.
“The work of the court is no doubt difficult and challenging. But I relish the opportunity to contribute to that process,” she said. “I have invested my entire legal career in being an avid student of the law and partisan in the cause of justice, whether as an advocate or as a judge.”
Hines, a Roxbury resident, specialized in criminal defense and civil rights litigation before becoming a judge. She served as a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and practiced criminal law with the Roxbury Defenders’ Committee. She was born in Scott, Mississippi and graduated from Tougaloo College and the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Hines credited her mother with her success, saying she prayed ceaselessly and “saw beyond the evil of Jim Crow,” and “instilled in me the necessity of pursuing excellence.”
“I stand here today as the embodiment of hopes and dreams of many who gave everything and then some,” she said.
Hines said her life experiences have shaped the type of judge she has become.
As a justice on the state’s highest court, Hines said Massachusetts residents can expect “somebody that will not be tethered to the words on the page, but will bring life experience to the decisions we have to make.”
At another point in her interview, she said one of the toughest parts of being a judge is sometimes setting aside life experiences to let the law lead to the correct answer. “A judge is a servant of the law, not its master,” she said.
The SJC is sometimes charged with tackling questions that have never been asked, and is the final word, she said. It is a collaborative effort between all the judges, each with their own life experiences, she said.
“I can no more put aside who I am and what I have learned about the world than the other six judges can put aside who they are and what they have learned,” Hines said.
Councilor Jennie Caissie asked Hines her views on the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment and how it relates to Massachusetts gun owners rights. Caissie described legal gun owners in Massachusetts as facing discrimination. Hines said the U.S. Supreme Court will determine what the perimeters of the Second Amendment will be.
“We are followers, not leaders in that respect,” Hines said about the SJC’s role.
Hines said she could not express an opinion on the issue because it could come before the court, but added the SJC will have to conform to what the Supreme Court says about what limits can be placed on legal gun ownership.
Caissie also questioned Hines about an upcoming voter referendum question repealing the state’s casino gambling law. Hines said if there is anyone who feels aggrieved, there is likely to be a lawsuit on the issue and said she should not comment.
Appeals Court Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza said Hines has an outstanding work ethic, and he is convinced she has all the personal and professional attributes to be an excellent Supreme Court justice. She has a deep understanding of the law that is reflected in her decisions, he said.
In the year since she was appointed to the Appeals Court, Hines has sat on more than 225 cases and authored 75 appellate decisions, according to Rapoza.
Hines told a story about her early days as a lawyer in 1972 that she repeats to small groups of young women attorneys. At the time, she said she had never seen a black woman lawyer in Massachusetts courts. She was in Middlesex Superior Court to represent a defendant, but the judge kept bypassing her case, she said.
After four hours, the judge said to her, “Young lady, you cannot speak in this courtroom unless you prove to me that you are a lawyer,” she said.
Hines said she refused to show the judge her bar card because no one else had been asked to prove they were a lawyer. “I said I am not proving anything. I walked out the door, not having done anything for my client,” she said. Former SJC Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, her boss at the time, later intervened.
“As of today, I think you got the last laugh,” Kennedy said when she finished the story.
Ireland wrote a letter to the council supporting her nomination.
Gants appeared on Hines’ behalf, telling the council he was thrilled with her nomination. He said she has “impeccably sound judgment and common sense.” She is an extraordinarily good listener who does her job with modesty and grace, he said.
Gants told council members that when he joined the high court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall told him every new justice changes the court in some fashion. He said he now understands the wisdom of that statement.
“If you confirm her, Justice Hines will change the SJC and she will change it for the better. She will allow us to see many issues with a fresh and informed perspective,” Gants said.