In 1976, Dorothy Comstock Riley became the first woman to be appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and in 1978, she was elected to a full six-year term.
After graduating form the law school at Wayne State University in 1949, Riley discovered that potential employers were only interested in her secretarial and bookkeeping skills because she was a woman. Not one to be discouraged, she set up her own practice, which she kept for six years. Dorothy Comstock Riley once remarked, “You must be able to stand alone. And that really is to me the thing that marks a fine attorney.” As one of few women involved in the legal profession at that time, Riley was often forced to stand alone. But she always took her stand with dignity and grace. In December of 1982, Governor William Milliken appointed her to fill a vacancy on the Michigan Supreme Court. However, 69 days later, Dorothy Comstock Riley was voted off the Court by four male justices who concluded that her appointment had exceeded the outgoing Governor’s authority. Amidst the bitter political power struggle, Riley managed to step down with grace.
In 1984, Riley no longer stood alone, but was surrounded by the overwhelming support of Michigan voters who elected her to the Michigan Supreme Court. Two years later, she was elected by her colleagues to become Chief Justice. She was the second woman to hold that position, following in the footsteps of Mary S. Coleman.
Her fellow justices described her as a stickler for deadlines and details. She was always conscientious and prepared. Though she was feminine and petite in stature, Riley was a force to be reckoned with because of her intelligence and integrity. In her own quiet way, Dorothy Comstock Riley became a role model for women in the legal profession. Though she was often forced to stand alone, her dignity gave strength to the women who would join her in her stand.