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May 20, 2021

ABA announces winners of the 2021 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2021 — The American Bar Association today announced its selections for the 2021 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts, which recognize outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system. This is the ABA’s highest honor in recognition of this purpose. 

The Silver Gavel Awards are highly selective — this year the ABA is presenting only six Silver Gavels and six Honorable Mentions among 22 finalists identified from 130 entries received in all eligible categories, which include books, commentary, documentaries, drama and literature, magazines, multimedia, newspapers, radio and television.

“The American Bar Association engages in a deliberative and thorough judging process to select winners of the Silver Gavel Awards,” said Sharon Stern Gerstman, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards. “We congratulate all of our 2021 awardees for their exceptional efforts to advance the American public’s understanding of law.”

The work being recognized focuses on such matters as court secrecy and open justice, racial justice, criminal justice system reforms and women’s rights.

The 2021 Silver Gavel award winners are:

  • “Marriage Equality: From Outlaws to In-Laws,” in which authors William Eskridge and Christopher Riano and editor William Frucht presents a history of America’s marriage equality debate while highlighting personal stories and the constitutional debate.
  • “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America,” a moving documentary about how the invention of the automobile brought “mobility and freedom” for African Americans, but also exposed them to discrimination and violence that still is prevalent today.
  • “Fear, Illness and Death in ICE Detention,” an investigative magazine article by Seth Freed Wessler, reporting fellow at Type Investigations, about how a protest grew on the inside of a Georgia detention facility to “raise the alarm” about conditions during the pandemic.
  • “American Injustice,” a multimedia collaboration by Reuters reporters examines the “institutional failings” through four projects about police unions, local jails, judges and qualified immunity.
  • “Targeted,” a newspaper investigative series by the Tampa Bay Times about how a transformed sheriff’s office became a “cutting-edge data-driven machine,” which evolved into an “operation that monitors, intimidates and harasses families.”
  • “Buried Truths Season 3: Ahmaud Arbery,” a thought-provoking podcast series by WABE, which investigates the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery and examines details about the case that are “both disheartening and inspiring.”

The ABA has presented the Silver Gavels each year since 1958. The 18-member ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards makes the final award decisions.

No more than one Silver Gavel is presented in each category. Honorable mentions are also recognized, but awards are not presented in every category every year.

Selection criteria include how the entry addresses the Silver Gavel Awards’ purpose and objectives; educational value of legal information; impact on, or outreach to, the public; thoroughness and accuracy in presentation of issues; creativity and originality in approach to subject matter and effectiveness of presentation; and demonstrated technical skill in the entry’s production.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo will present Silver Gavels and honorable mentions on July 13 during a virtual event at 6 p.m. EDT. David McCraw, vice president and deputy general counsel at The New York Times Company, will be the featured speaker.

The event is free and open to members of the media and the public, but registration is required. For media credentialing and to receive the event link, contact Betsy Adeboyejo at 202-662-1039 or [email protected]. The public can register here.

The following is a complete list of Silver Gavel winners and honorable mentions with a link to their work:

Silver Gavel –
“Marriage Equality: From Outlaws to In-Laws”
Yale University Press
William Eskridge and Christopher Riano, authors
William Frucht, editor

Honorable Mention – “Supreme Inequality”
Penguin Press
Adam Cohen, author


Silver Gavel –
“Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America”
Steeplechase Films and The Cooperstown Graduate Program
Emily Pfeil, Kathryn Clinard and Steven Bennet, producers
Gretchen Sorin and Ric Burns, writers, directors
Emir Lewis, editor, producer

Honorable Mention – “Belly of the Beast”
Idle Wild Films
Erika Cohn, director/producer
Angela Tucker, Christen Marquez and Nicole Docta, producers

Honorable Mention – “The Vote”
“American Experience,” a 42nd Parallel Films production for “American Experience”
Michelle Ferrari, writer, director, producer
Connie Honeycutt, producer
Nancy Novack and Ilya Chaiken, editors
Mark Samels and Susan Bellows, executive producers


Silver Gavel –
“Fear, Illness and Death in ICE Detention”
Type Investigations
Seth Freed Wessler, reporting fellow

Honorable Mention –
“The 1857 Project”
Gateway Journalism Review
William Freivogel, publisher
Steve Edwards, illustrator
Amelia Blakely and Kayla Chamness, student reporters


Silver Gavel –
“American Injustice”
Reuters Staff


Silver Gavel –
Tampa Bay Times
Kathleen McGrory and Adam Playford, investigations editors
Neil Bedi, investigative reporter
Douglas Clifford, staff photojournalist

Honorable Mention – “Myon Burrell Walks Free”
Associated Press
Robin McDowell and Margie Mason, reporters
Sasha Aslanian, producer
John Minchillo, photographer


Silver Gavel –
“Buried Truths Season 3: Ahmaud Arbery”
Je-Anne Berry and John Haas, executive producers
David Barasoain, senior producer
Richard Halicks and Hank Klibanoff, writers

Honorable Mention – “Louder Than a Riot”
Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden, hosts/reporters
Rachel Neel, senior supervising producer
Michael May, Matt Ozug, Dustin DeSoto, Adelina Lancianese and Sam Leeds, producers
Chiquita Paschal and Chenjerai Kumanyika, editors
Steve Nelson, senior programming director
Lauren Onkey, senior music director

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers 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. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.