Morris Dees Receives ABA Medal for Advancing Civil Rights and Access to Justice
Morris Seligman Dees Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been chosen to receive the highest award from the American Bar Association, the ABA Medal. He will receive the award when the ABA House of Delegates convenes at the association’s Annual Meeting on Aug. 7 in Chicago.
The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence. The ABA’s Board of Governors chooses the medal’s recipient.
Dees, the son of a poor white Alabama cotton farmer, early in life aspired to become a farmer or a Southern Baptist preacher but ultimately earned a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law. He founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971 along with his law partner, Joseph J. Levin Jr. Dees won a number of civil rights cases that helped integrate government and public institutions; he is also known for his work combating white supremacist hate groups.
“The Board of Governors is honored to present the ABA Medal to Morris Dees because he has worked tirelessly to ensure that all individuals, and especially the most vulnerable in our society, receive the access to justice they deserve,” said ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III. “As we all know, we have yet to erase racism and discrimination in our society, but Mr. Dees is an outstanding example of a lawyer who, case by case, is moving our country toward tolerance and equality.”
Named one of 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal in 2006, Dees has also been awarded the Trial Lawyer of the Year from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association, and the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice, among many accolades.
The ABA Medal is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines that 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, the Rev. Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; and Judge Patricia Wald, member of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.