Past Recipients & Keynote Speakers

Founded in 1966, the ABA's Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice (formerly Individual Rights and Responsibilities) is dedicated to fostering a greater appreciation and understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights among members of the bar and the general public. Through education and advocacy, CRSJ expresses the legal profession's commitment to work to achieve the American ideals of justice, freedom, and equality for all through the legal system. The Thurgood Marshall Award was established in 1992 to help further these goals.

The Thurgood Marshall Award is named for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who epitomized individual commitment, in word and action, to the cause of civil rights in this country. The award is intended to recognize similar long-term contributions by other members of the legal profession to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the United States. Justice Marshall received the inaugural award in 1992.

Past Recipients

2019 AWARD -    John Robert Lewis, U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, for his lifelong dedication to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America.

2018 AWARD 
-    Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr., former Attorney General of the United States.

2017 AWARD - Hon. Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

2016 AWARD - Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. 

2015 AWARD - Thomas P. Sullivan, Partner at Jenner & Block, for his extraordinary devotion to equal justice and improving our civil and criminal justice systems.

2014 AWARD - The Honorable Margaret A. Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, for her landmark court opinions in cases such as Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

2013 AWARD - Hon. Thelton E. Henderson, the first African-American lawyer in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S.   Department of Justice. 

2012 AWARD - Lawrence R. Baca, former U.S. Department of Justice attorney and first Native American recipient, a pioneer in the fight for the civil rights of Native Americans. 

2011 AWARD - Elaine R. Jones, President and Director-Counsel, Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Civil Rights Pioneer

2010 AWARD - Paul M. Smith, U.S. Supreme Court Advocate, for his participation in landmark civil rights, First Amendment, and voting rights cases.

2009 AWARD - Hon. Janet Reno, former U.S. Attorney General, for her commitment to the reform and improvement of the justice system.

2008 AWARD - Hon. Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, for her courageous and pioneering work as a lawyer and judge to protect the rights of women, minorities and the poor.

2007 AWARD - Hon. Matthew J. Perry, Jr., South Carolina’s first African American U.S. District Court judge, for leading the struggle for desegregation in South Carolina.

2006 AWARD - Julius Chambers, North Carolina Civil Rights lawyer and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. leader, in recognition of his lifelong work to advance civil rights in this country.

2005 AWARD - Hon. Abner J. Mikva, former Congressman, Chief Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Counsel for President William J. Clinton, for his outstanding commitment to the preservation and expansion of civil rights and the rule of law for all Americans.

2004 AWARD - Fred D. Gray, Alabama Civil Rights Lawyer who represented Rosa Parks among others, for his involvement in landmark civil rights cases that have changed the social fabric of America regarding desegregation, integration and racial discrimination in voting, housing, and education.

2003 AWARD - Dale Minami, Civil Rights Lawyer and Co-Founder of the Asian Law Caucus, for his challenge of discrimination in all forms and his success in obtaining vacated convictions for World War II Japanese-American internees.

2002 AWARD - Hon. Don Edwards, retired Congressman for the 16th District (California), for his unwavering, decades-long leadership in protecting and advancing civil rights and liberties.

2001 AWARD - Hon. William Wayne Justice, Senior Judge of the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, in recognition of his many historic and courageous rulings advancing civil rights and liberties.

2000 AWARD - Hon. Revius O. Ortique, Jr., first African-American elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court, for the significant state and regional impacts of his civil rights leadership as a lawyer and a judge.

1999 AWARD - Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, in recognition of her development and advancement of gender equality law.

1998 AWARD - Stephen B. Bright, Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, for his groundbreaking work in representing clients in criminal trials, prison civil rights actions, and death penalty cases.

1997 AWARD - Hon. Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, for his lifelong contributions to civil rights advancement as a lawyer, judge, and community leader.

1996 AWARD - Jack Greenberg, civil rights attorney and Columbia University professor, or his civil rights leadership as Thurgood Marshall’s successor at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

1995 AWARD - Ralph S. Abascal,  General Counsel of California Rural Legal Assistance, for his innovative and far-reaching work as a founder and proponent of the environmental justice movement.

1994 AWARD - Oliver W. Hill, civil rights attorney in Richmond, Va., who worked with Justice Marshall on school desegregation cases other early civil rights cases in the South.

1993 AWARD - Hon. Frank M. Johnson, Jr., Senior Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, for his landmark civil rights decisions in the 1960s and his unwavering commitment to promoting equal rights for all.

1992 AWARD - Justice Thurgood Marshall

Keynote Speakers

2019 AWARD -  Rhiannon Giddens (performance)

2018 AWARD 
-  Sherrilyn Ifill

2017 AWARD
 - Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

2016 AWARD 
- Bryan Stevenson

2015 AWARD 
- Scott Turow

2014 AWARD
 -  Professor Lani Guinier

2013 AWARD 
- James J. Brosnahan

2012 AWARD 
- Geoffrey Stone

2011 AWARD
 - Justice Rosalie Abella

2010 AWARD
 - Pamela S. Karlan

2009 AWARD - 
the Honorable Abner J. Mikva

2008 AWARD
 - John Payton

2007 AWARD
 - the Honorable Thelton Henderson

2006 AWARD
 - the Honorable Neil Abercrombie (D-HI)

2005 AWARD
 - U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

2004 AWARD - 
Rev. Joseph A. Lowery

2003 AWARD
 - Justice Joyce Kennard

2002 AWARD 
- Roger Wilkens

2001 AWARD
 - Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

2000 AWARD
 - Gaye McDougal

1999 AWARD
 - the Honorable William F. Winter

1998 AWARD
 - the Honorable Shirley S. Abrahamson

1997 AWARD
 -  the Honorable Martha Craig Daughtrey

1996 AWARD
 -  Elaine R. Jones

1995 AWARD
 - the Honorable Leon Higginbotham

1994 AWARD
 - Congressman John Lewis (D-GA)

1993 AWARD
 - Ambassador Andrew Young

1992 AWARD
 - Philip A. Lacovara, Welcome; Stephen L. Carter, Reflection; and Karen Hastie Williams, Presentation (no keynote for presentation to J. Marshall himself)