The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence. The ABA Board of Governors chooses the medal’s recipient.
Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, Gen. Anderson was raised by parents who stressed the importance of a good education. He and most of his five siblings found a way to attend college during the Great Depression. Gen. Anderson graduated from West Virginia University in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree, earning academic and military honors, and accepted a second lieutenant’s commission in the Marine Corps. He went on to earn a master’s degree and in 1952 earned a Juris Doctor degree summa cum laude from George Washington University Law School. During his venerated 35-year career in the Marines, he served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was the youngest active duty Marine to be promoted to four-star rank, and the first active duty Marine Naval Aviator to attain that rank when appointed the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1972.
Active in the ABA since 1950, Gen. Anderson began his leadership role in the ABA in the 1980s by becoming Director of the General Practice Division, chair of its Government Lawyers Committee and chair of its Federal Legislation Committee. He wrote the “Legislative Update” column for the section’s quarterly magazine for many years. Gen. Anderson’s work led to his appointment as a member of the ABA’s special advisory committee on Programs for Public Sector Lawyers. He strongly advocated for the formation of the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division and played a vital role in the division’s formative years. Gen. Anderson was appointed by the ABA President to chair two task forces – the Task Force on Risk Management and Avoidance for Volunteer Organizations and the special Committee on Government Lawyers Participation in the ABA.
Of his many leadership positions at the ABA, one that likely holds special significance for him is his role as chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel. Under his leadership, the committee launched the Military Pro Bono Project, which matches junior-enlisted military members facing civil legal issues with pro bono attorneys. Gen. Anderson’s connections and reputation in the military were essential in convincing the military services to come aboard and view the project as a reliable resource. Since the launch of that program, more than 1,000 military personnel have been helped, representing more than $5.6 million in donated billable hours by volunteer lawyers.
During his tenure on the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security from 1995 to 2001, the committee provided expert advice to the ABA on legal issues related to homeland security and the war on terror. From 2001 to 2004, he served on the ABA Board of Governors, where he was a member of the Board’s executive committee and chair of the Program and Planning Committee. He also served on the ABA Nominating Committee, the Task Force on Hurricane Katrina; the Task Force on Applying Federal Legislation to Congress, the Working Group on Lawyers’ Representation of Regulated Clients and the Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness.
Remarkably, at age 95, Gen. Anderson continues to serve as an active member of several ABA sections and divisions and as a member of the ABA House of Delegates. All of this only touches on the surface of Gen. Anderson’s contributions to the legal profession and his country.
“The contributions of General Earl Anderson over the past 60-plus years will resonate within the ABA for decades,” said ABA President James Silkenat. “His commitment to the law through his leadership in the ABA is matched only by his devotion and service to this country. We are proud to add the ABA Medal to the many honors he has earned, as an enduring symbol of our gratitude and appreciation.”
The ABA Medal is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession. Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor. Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; human rights activist Father Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
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