Arnette Hubbard has been a pioneer for black women in the legal field. She became a lawyer at a time when very few women, and even fewer black women, were pursuing law degrees. Hubbard spent 28 years working as a lawyer before becoming a Circuit Court Judge. She is also an active member of numerous professional organizations. Most notably, Hubbard was the first female president of the National Bar Association, the largest organization of black lawyers and judges. In addition to these responsibilities, Hubbard has been a passionate and outspoken proponent of civil rights, particularly voting rights.
Arnette Rhinehart Hubbard was born on January 11 in Stephens, Arkansas.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and then she decided to go to law school. Hubbard graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1969 and passed the bar exam on her first try.
In 1969 Hubbard then practiced law from until she became a judge in 1997. Her first job was as a staff attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Then in 1972 she went into private practice.
Hubbard began practicing law at a time when women were only beginning to assert themselves in that field. According to the American Bar Association, women accounted for only three percent of all lawyers in the nation in 1971. However, the rebirth of the women’s rights movement in the 1970s opened many doors for women in the legal field. By 1998 women comprised 24 percent of the nation’s lawyers. Hubbard took advantage of the new opportunities opening up for her. For example, she became the first woman president of the Cook County Bar Association.
In 1981 Hubbard broke another barrier when she became the first woman president of the National Bar Association, the country’s largest group of African American lawyers and judges. Twelve African-American legal professionals formed the National Bar Association in 1925, a time when there were fewer than 1,000 African-American lawyers in the
Hubbard served on the three-member Chicago Board of Election Commissioners beginning in 1989. In 1992 she became the first black commissioner elected president of the Association of Election Commissioners of Illinois. In 1994 the National Bar Association was the only bar group that was sanctioned by the International Elections Committee to participate in an American delegation observing the first post-apartheid democratic election conducted in South Africa. Hubbard was one of the National Bar Association representatives who traveled to South Africa. She was overwhelmed by the experience of witnessing people standing in line for hours simply to exercise their right to vote. Hubbard has used her stories of this historic occasion in South Africa to encourage Americans to register to vote and to appreciate their right to exercise this freedom. Hubbard also served as a member of the United States Presidential Observer Delegation to the historic parliamentary and local elections in Haiti. Additionally she served on the Election Authority Advisory Committee of the State Board of Elections of the State of Illinois, as well as the executive committee of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers.
In 1997 Hubbard began a six-year term as a Circuit Court judge. She began her term in the First Municipal District, but in 2001 Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans assigned her to the Law Jury Section of the Law Division. Hubbard shared her philosophy about being a judge to Kia Buckner-Lawton of Sister 2 Sister magazine, “I try to understand that I may or may not affect the views of others. But what I do, I do with respect and kindness,” Hubbard explained. “I disagree without being disagreeable. I remember my purpose.” Hubbard also recounted that her most memorable moment as a judge came when she swore in the first African-American County Board president of Cook County, John H. Stroger, Jr., a man she greatly admired.
Hubbard’s accomplishments in the legal field and her advocacy for voting rights have not gone unnoticed by her peers. Hubbard has received the Clarence Darrow Award in recognition for her contributions to social justice. In 2000 she received the Obelisk Award for education and community service. Additionally, in 2001 she became the first woman inducted into the Scroll of Distinguished Women Lawyers by the National Bar Association in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of her presidency of that organization.