The award, which celebrates the accomplishments of lawyers who promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession, will be presented Feb. 9 at the Hilton Anatole during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Dallas.
One colleague called Saenz the Thurgood Marshall of the Latino community, praising his legendary efforts to bring justice to the disenfranchised.
Saenz has worked at MALDEF for most of his legal career, beginning as a staff attorney in 1993 and working his way up to vice president of litigation by 2005, when he joined the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. As counsel to the mayor, Saenz provided legal and policy advice on major initiatives.
In a letter supporting Saenz’s nomination, the director of litigation for the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center praised his thoughtfulness and calm guidance. “Tom is a true leader in the civil rights bar in California and beyond,” said Denise Hulett, adding, “I have worked with many wonderful, committed civil rights lawyers, none better at solving seemingly intractable legal or tactical problems than Tom.”
A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Saenz serves on the steering committee of the California Civil Rights Coalition, an organization of more than 100 groups seeking to realize a common vision of a just and healthy society. He is also a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
“Tom Saenz is precisely the type of lawyer that the Spirit of Excellence Award was designed to recognize,” said Reginald Turner, the chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. “He has devoted his career to ongoing civil rights struggles in the tradition of advocates like Thurgood Marshall and Cruz Reynoso.”
“His work at MALDEF has been characterized by a willingness to take on big battles against powerful forces on behalf of people of humble means — yet in pursuit of the highest ideals,” Turner added. “His victories against unconstitutional and discriminatory action by governments and private actors, and his commitment to a sound education for all children regardless of their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, mean that his legacy will live on.”
The mission of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is to promote racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. It serves as a catalyst for change, so that the profession may more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of society, and better serve society. The Commission takes actions to promote the recruitment, hiring, promotion and advancement of attorneys of color, and works to ensure equal membership and employment opportunities for diverse lawyers in the American Bar Association. The Commission accomplishes these goals through many initiatives, activities and programs, including the Spirit of Excellence Award.
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.