Profile in Brief Denise Page Hood Church & state

By John Minnis

Legal News

Separation of church and state is not an issue for U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood, Eastern District Michigan. She handles both with aplomb.

As a federal judge, Hood deals daily with thorny constitutional issues. As wife of the Rev. Nicholas Hood III, senior minister of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Detroit, religion also plays a big part of Judge Hood's life.

"I very much adhere to that (separation of church and state)," Hood says. "I think I have very little trouble separating the two. I actually do not hold any offices in my local church."

Interestingly, it was growing up in the AME Church in Columbus, Ohio, where Hood first honed skills that would help her as a lawyer and a judge.

"In my church," she says, "we were taught to participate in making your community better. I would say it was the place where I learned to argue my points. Young people were encouraged to speak out on fairness and justice."

Hood met her husband while she was an undergrad at Yale University, where he was a divinity student. She earned her law degree at Columbia University School of Law. In 1976, the Hoods moved to Detroit, where the bride's father-in-law, Nicholas Hood II, was senior minister at Plymouth United Church of Christ.

"I went out East to college," Judge Hoods reminisces, "and I thought I would stay there. Then I ended up back here. It turned out to be a very good thing."

In the Detroit as a young attorney, Hood worked in the Detroit legal department under Anna Diggs Taylor, who would become the first black woman appointed to the federal bench for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Hood became active in the Detroit and Wolverine Bar Associations.

"All of that gave me a good chance to do professional volunteer work and to meet people in the community," she says.

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."

That same year, Bill Clinton was elected president, which opened opportunities for women and minorities to be appointed to the federal bench. She applied and was nominated by U.S. Sens. Donald Riegle Jr. and Carl Levin.

"I really didn't think I would make it through the process," she recalls. "My father-in-law said, 'They won't know you are interested if you don't apply.'"

She was appointed to the U.S. District bench in 1994 along with Paul D. Borman and John Corbett O'Meara.

"Along the way," Judge Hoods acknowledges, "there were a lot of people who encouraged me to pursue education, including my parents and grandfather, and encouraged my interest in politics the judiciary, including my father-in-law and mother-in-law and my husband."

As a successful judge, wife, mother and parishioner, Hood encourages young people to pursue legal and judicial careers and "to live crime-free lives, which is not difficult to do." And she urges adults to be vigilant in protecting their civil rights, to "watchdog and use them," and to realize "the courts are there to serve them."

Published: Fri, Jun 11, 2010