On Thursday, Jan. 28, Judge Denise Page Hood will become Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. As Vice President Joe Biden once remarked to President Obama upon passage of his historic healthcare legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, this is a big (expletive deleted)deal.
Because during a time when the subject of black people and justice – or the lack thereof – remains front and center in the national headlines, it matters greatly that a black woman with the stature and credentials of Judge Hood is being placed in this position, which she will hold for the next seven years.
Hood was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Prior to that, she worked as a young attorney for Anna Diggs Taylor in the city’s legal department. Diggs would later become the first black woman appointed to the federal bench for the Eastern District.
“When I first came to Detroit she was my supervisor, and she gave me a lot of opportunities and I learned a lot about writing from her,” said Hood.
“When I came over here [to the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in 1994], it was really a treat to have her as a colleague this time. She was a very good role model for a lot of black women lawyers.”
According to the Legal News:
“It was while Hood was interviewing judicial candidates for the Detroit NOW PAC in 1980 that someone suggested she run for 36th District Court. Two years later, she ran and won. She served on the district bench for six years before being appointed to Detroit Recorder’s Court by Gov. James Blanchard in 1989. In 1992, she was elected to Wayne County Circuit Court, ‘which had been my goal,’ Hood says. ‘That is where I really wanted to be’.”
Now that Hood is about to become Chief Judge, she is mindful of the significance of her position, but even more mindful of how her position can be used to help her community. One area where she hopes to make a difference is in the area of jury participation. Although she is aware that the threat of punishment is what causes many residents to show up for their appointed duty, Hood has been working toward doing more community outreach to educate the community on why jury duty is so important, and why residents should try not to always view it as a necessary evil or an unwelcome inconvenience merely to be tolerated.
As a Christian whose husband, Nicholas Hood III serves as pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ, Hood also sees her work as more than simply a well-paid occupation.
“You know, our constitution says the church and state, they are separate. And so to the extent that they are separate institutions they are. But I think that particularly coming out of the African Methodist Episcopal church where I grew up, and also the United Church of Christ, which is one of the more liberal denominations in the United States, you have people who are lifted up in the church, people who are social activists like Richard Allen (elected the first Bishop of the AME Church in 1816), and Absalom Jones (abolitionist and first African American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1804) in the AME church who early on in the history of our country were doing community service work as part of what they thought it meant to be a Christian. And in the United Church of Christ the same thing is true. “
Hood pointed out that her father-in-law, Nicholas Hood II, was one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and his church was one of those that participated in the march to Cobo Hall when Martin Luther King was here and delivered the first draft of his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“In our church we still have a very socially conscious church that believes that your Christianity is worked out in the world and that you are to help others. And sometimes those others are people who are less fortunate than you, and sometimes it’s the bigger picture of helping everyone to live together in a better way. So the church, I think, informs our whole lives, and I think being a Christian informs your whole life. I mean, Jesus, when he came, he really was active among the poor. And so, part of living out your life as a follower is that you participate in your community and give back of the gifts that you’ve been given.
“I think that also, I have to say that – and I say this everywhere that I go – but the place that I first learned to argue my point was in my home church when I was a young person. It was very important that young people have an opportunity to be involved in all facets of the church and in the community. And that was worked out in the church where you learned how to treat people fairly. Also, Sunday school was where you could legitimately argue with somebody about something and you wouldn’t necessarily be chastised because you were, quote, talking back to someone older than you. It was all about the realm of theological and social justice discourse, so you had a lot of leeway back then. And I really think that’s where I learned about fairness, and about how to make your argument for your position. And so I credit all those people back at my old Sunday School for partly making me what I am today.”