The John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award was established by the ABA Litigation Section in 1990. Judge Wisdom was a scholar and jurist of the highest integrity whose tenure on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is best known for its recognition of constitutional rights of all citizens. Each year the Section honors Judge Wisdom through the selection of outstanding individuals and firms to receive an award that bears his name.
Recipients of the Wisdom Awards have made outstanding contributions to the quality of justice in their communities, ensuring that the legal system is open and available to all. Learn more about past award recipients.
The Section welcomes anyone to submit a nomination for the award. Past recipients have demonstrated their commitment to disadvantaged, disenfranchised or other under-represented individuals or groups through:
- Sustained, exceptional direct representation,
- Creation of new or expanded means of access to the legal system, or
- Representation in cases that resulted in significant changes in statutory or case law to expand equal access to justice.
In addition to the above criteria, nominated firms have demonstrated a collective commitment to pro bono as well as encouraged pro bono work among their attorneys.
Awards may be given in one or more of following categories*:
- Lawyer in private practice or corporate counsel office
- Lawyer employed by a legal services or other public interest program
- Educator or judge
- Law firm
Judge Wisdom left a profound mark on American jurisprudence and the civil rights movement during his 42-year career on the Fifth Circuit. He is renowned for his landmark decisions ordering and implementing desegregation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. During the 1960s, despite virulent opposition and threats to his life, he issued opinions ordering integration at the University of Mississippi and requiring recalcitrant school boards to speed the pace of desegregation. He also joined in groundbreaking decisions that eliminated racial discrimination in jury selection and voter registration in Louisiana. As the New York Times reported on his death at age 94 in 1999, Wisdom was one of a “handful of remarkable men who prevailed by meeting the demands of the times with an innovative and creative judicial response that restructured an unjust social order and helped shape the nation in a second reconstruction and left a permanent imprint on American history.”
* Current members of the Litigation Section Council, leadership, employees, and family members of these individuals are not eligible.
Please submit all materials via the online nomination form. Contact Amber Meeks with any questions.