Denise R Johnson

Denise Johnson
Denise Johnson

Time Period

1940 to Today

Notable Facts

First woman to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court. Appointed in 1990 and will be up for retention next in 2011. Was Chief of the Public Protection Division and Chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Personal Information

Date of Birth


Primary Residence




Historical Significance

Denise R. Johnson is the first woman to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court.

She was born in Wyandotte, Michigan and received her AB from Wayne State University, in Detroit, Michigan in 1969. She graduated from the University of Connecticut Law School with a JD degree in 1974 and was admitted to the bar in Connecticut. Over the next several years, Johnson practiced poverty law with New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc., while coming to Vermont to visit on a regular basis. After one extended visit, she and her husband decided they wanted to make Vermont their permanent home. Johnson accepted a teaching position at Vermont Law School from 1978-1979, and was admitted to the bar of the State of Vermont in 1980. She was appointed an Assistant Attorney General with the Office of the Attorney General in 1980, and served as the Chief of the Civil Rights Division. From 1982 to 1988 she was Chief of the Public Protection Division.

In 1988, Johnson moved to private practice, and was also named Chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission by Governor Madeleine Kunin. Vermont's first woman-led administration was a unique group, with a large number of woman appointees, many of whom were the first women to hold their positions. In 1986, 5 of 8 people in Kunin's inner staff were women; she had appointed women to 15 of 33 agency and department head positions, and to 169 of the 433 positions on commissions and boards.

On December 3, 1990, Governor Madeleine Kunin appointed Johnson Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court; which made her the first woman to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court. She has continued to serve the state in this capacity since 1990 and will next be up for retention in 2011. As a member of the Vermont Supreme Court, Johnson has heard many notable cases, such as Baker v. State, where Justice Johnson dissented from the majority opinion because she believed that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry immediately. In 1995, Johnson received her LLM from the University Of Virginia School Of Law in Law and its Administration. Johnson has been active in the American Bar Association, Judicial Division, serving as Chair of the Appellate Judges Conference. She has also served on the ABA Commission on IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts). She is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. She has been active in appellate judicial education on a national level. She enjoys spending time abroad and has lectured on United States law in Italy.

Organizations or Movements

  • Vermont Equal Access Committee
  • Vermont Human Rights Commission
  • Vermont Supreme Court
  • American Bar Association
  • American Law Institute
  • Kunin administration


  • Poverty lawyer
  • Legal Writing Instructor
  • Chief of the Public Protection Division for the Assistant Attorney General's Office
  • Chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission
  • Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.


  • AB, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, (1969)
  • JD, University of Connecticut School of Law, (1974)
  • LLM, University of Virginia School of Law, (1995).

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Vermont Supreme Court Justices Link

  • Johnson, Denise. "Bridging the Gap." Link

  • An Interview with Denise Johnson Link