ABA Watch previews some of the key honorees at this year’s ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.


ABA Medal

Each year the American Bar Association awards its highest honor, the ABA Medal, to one or more recipients who make outstanding contributions to the cause of American jurisprudence.  This year’s recipient is former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Secretary Clinton was chosen to receive the award for her “immense accomplishments as a lawyer, the strides she made for women both professionally and civically, and for promoting the interests of the U.S. and human rights abroad,” according to ABA President Laurel G. Bellows.  Bellows declared that Clinton “not only deserves this honor, but also the gratitude of the legal profession and the nation.”  Clinton attended Yale Law School and served as Secretary of State from 2009 – 2013, New York Senator from 2001-2009, and First Lady from 1993-2001.  She was the first female senator to represent the state of New York.  Clinton also served as the first chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession in 1987.

Clinton has spoken to the Association a number of times.  In 1992, she delivered the keynote address to the ABA’s Commission for Women in the Profession luncheon.  She praised honoree Anita Hill, stating that her testimony in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings “transformed consciousness and changed history.  All women who care about equality of opportunity, about integrity and morality in the workplace are in Professor Anita Hill’s debt.”  In 2005, she was a special Margaret Brent awardee.  She also spoke to the Association’s International Rule of Law Symposium that same year.

Thurgood Marshall Award

The ABA will honor Judge Thelton E. Henderson with the Thurgood Marshall Award.  The Thurgood Marshall Award recognizes members of the legal profession who contribute to “the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the United States.”  Judge Henderson, a Carter appointee, served as a federal district court judge for the Northern District of California.  He assumed senior status in 1998.  He previously served as a consultant on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  Judge Henderson was the first African American attorney to work in the Civil Rights section of the Department of Justice.  Amongst his notable decisions, he struck down Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences in California in the areas of public employment, public contracting or public education, as unconstitutional.  In its announcement of the award, the Association stated that Judge Henderson is receiving this award for his “pioneering role breaking color barriers, his contributions to social justice, his lifelong government service, and his history in and commitment to the civil rights movement.”

John Marshall Award

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals will be awarded the John Marshall Award, presented by the Justice Center of the ABA’s Judicial Division.  The award is given each year to an individual who has made significant advancements in judicial independence, justice system reform, or public awareness.  Judge Bell has served at all four levels of Maryland’s courts, and in 1996, he became the first African-American to lead the Maryland judiciary.  The ABA credits Judge Bell with running the Maryland court system according to his “guiding judicial principles: fuller access to justice; improved case expedition and timeliness; equality, fairness and integrity in the judicial process; judicial branch independence and accountability; and restored public trust and confidence in the court system.”  He retired from his position as chief justice on the Maryland Court of Appeals in July 2013.

Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of

Achievement Award

This year the ABA is awarding the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award to Hon. Mazie K. Hirono, Sara Holtz, Hon. Gladys Kessler, Marygold Shire Melli, and Therese M. Stewart.  This award is named after Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in America, and it “honors outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and have actively paved the way to success for others.

Hon. Mazie K. Hirono

Senator Hirono is currently representing Hawaii in the United States Senate as a Democratic member.  She was the first female to be elected as Senator from Hawaii, and she is also the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.  Previously, Senator Hirono was the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii.  She also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Sara Holtz

Sara Holtz owns and operates ClientFocus, an organization that “helps women lawyers become successful rainmakers.”  She wrote a book on this subject entitled, Bringin’ in the Rain: A Woman Lawyer’s Guide to Business Development.  Previously, Ms. Holtz served as vice president and general counsel at Nestle Beverage Company and division counsel at Clorox Company.  She was the first woman to chair the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Hon. Gladys Kessler

Judge Gladys Kessler is a senior judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  She was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.  Previously, she served as an associate judge on the Superior Court of D.C.  She has also worked for the New York City Board of Education and owned her own public interest law firm.  Judge Kessler has held the office of president in the National Association of Women Judges and serves on the ABA Conference of Federal Trial Judges.

Marygold Shire Melli

Ms. Melli is the Voss-Bascom Professor of Law Emerita at the University of Wisconsin Law School and an affiliate of The Institute for Research on Poverty.  She has served as associate dean of the law school, and as chair of the University Committee, which is the executive committee of the university faculty.  Ms. Melli was previously vice-chair of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Board of Lawyer Competence, as well as chair of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.  She is a member of the American Law Institute and the International Society of Family Law where she currently serves as a vice-president and as chair of the Scientific Committee.

Therese M. Stewart

Ms. Stewart is the chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco, California.  She has become well-known for her work in the California state and federal court cases regarding same-sex marriage.  Previously, she was a litigation partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin.  She served as a lead attorney on the Proposition 8 case in California.  Stewart served as the first openly gay president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, as well as the first co-chair of its Committee on Sexual Orientation.