When Hamilton assumes the mantle of chief judge of the Northern District from Claudia Wilken on Jan. 26, it will mark the first time the position has gone from one female judge to another. It will also be the first time a woman of color has held the position. But expect no gavel passing ceremony, nor any kind of public commemoration or fanfare. The 61-year-old Hamilton, a native of a small town in downstate Illinois, keeps a lower profile than some of her colleagues. “I could not have envisioned ever being in a position such as this [growing up],” Hamilton says.

What will your primary duties be as the chief? I see the chief judge position of having two main components. And one of those components I’d liken to pointing a ship on the right path and avoiding all the icebergs. And the other component would be responding to problems and putting out fires.