We the People

We the People

December 14, 2011
Charisse Hines aims to take the American Constitution Society to the next level

Charisse Hines, L’13, returned to Richmond from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s annual conference in Washington last July with one goal: to build Richmond Law’s ACS chapter into one of the best in the nation.

“That convention changed my life,” Hines said. “I met so many like-minded people at the conference and I got to see what active chapters were doing. Yale and Santa Clara are always award-winning chapters. I had been elected president [of Richmond’s ACS] and said, ‘Why not us?’”

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy was founded 10 years ago to promote the vitality of the U.S. Constitution and its fundamental values. Nationwide, there are 186 ACS chapters affiliated with U.S. law schools. The organization has more than 16,000 members and provides opportunities for networking, mentoring and organizing around national and local issues.

When Hines joined Richmond’s chapter during her first year of law school, she was one of only five members. By December 2011, with Hines at the helm for just one semester, the chapter had grown to 25 members and had sponsored seven well-attended events during the fall. Its programming ranged from a Constitution Day ice cream social and review of the Fourth Circuit with Professor Kevin Walsh, to an election law panel featuring Virginia’s top experts in voter’s rights and redistricting and a program on students’ internet rights. ACS members also taught elementary and middle school students about the Sixth Amendment through its Constitution in the Classroom program, and co-sponsored “Coping with Cancer through the Law,” a program that taught students and local attorneys how to write wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives.

Hines joined the ACS immediately after starting law school and became passionate about the organization as she learned about its work and members, who include top government officials such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “Our members are the most idealistic, passionate people who went to law school because of their idealism,” Hines said. “We have members of the federal government who are deciding policy and doing amazing work. To have so many people on board who are working as high-ranking members of the government and as judges is very inspiring. It shows you that you really can be who you want to be.”

Hines, who is from Houston, Texas, entered law school after working for six years in the food manufacturing industry as a quality assurance and food safety manager. She majored in chemistry at Baylor University, but found her true passion when she worked as deputy director for the Democratic National Convention in Houston during John Kerry’s bid for the 2004 presidency.

“That was the formative part of me knowing I was supposed to lead,” she said. When Kerry lost the election, she needed to find a job. Although she was interested in law school at the time, she wanted to pay off her undergraduate student loans first and began working in food manufacturing.

In 2008, Hines volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and began thinking more seriously about law school. While working full-time for Planter’s Peanuts in Suffolk, Va., she earned a B.A. in political science from Old Dominion University in preparation for law school.

“Even though I had the practical experience of working in politics, I didn’t know about the theory or fundamentals,” she explains. “Plus, I hadn’t been in school for a few years and wanted to get used to being a student again.”

While at ODU Hines met Richmond’s Associate Dean for Admissions Michelle Rahman, who sold her on the School of Law by telling her that the Richmond area is home to more federal institutions than any other place outside of Washington, D.C. “I was quite sure I wanted to work for the federal government and having that access while in law school is key,” Hines said.

Hines does not regret her choice to attend Richmond Law, where, she said, “I feel like I have really grown as a person since I have been here. I have really been challenged to step up to the plate in terms of studying and to go after what I want. I am a huge fan of the faculty… they have been very approachable and helpful and have helped me to see myself in ways I never thought I would.”