John Lewis, Eric Holder Call Lawyers to Action at 2017 Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon

At the 2017 Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon, on Wednesday, June 7, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs celebrated achievements of the past year and focused attention on the civil rights, anti-poverty, and equal justice advocacy work that must be addressed in the year ahead.

Civil rights icon and U.S. House Representative John Lewis presented the Branton Award to former Attorney General Eric J. Holder, Jr. for his career of service to the cause of civil rights, equal justice, and “good trouble.” Accepting the award, Mr. Holder noted that this is an “extraordinary time to be a lawyer, especially a civil rights lawyer,” and that there is much work to be done to protect the rule of law. He shared his optimism as he encouraged the young lawyers in the audience not to sit on the sidelines and wait to be asked to be an advocate for civil rights but advised that, “Dr. King said the arc of the universe bends toward justice. But only when people pull it towards justice.”

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Dominic Moulden accepted the Alfred McKenzie Award on behalf ONE DC for its dedication and courage in organizing communities to fight displacement and racial segregation in the District, and also for its collaboration with the Committee on groundbreaking litigation. He reminded the audience of our ethical obligation to organize for justice.

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Shelly Brazier accepted the inaugural Rod Boggs Award on behalf of her husband Thomas S. Williamson Jr., who passed away earlier this year. The room rose to its feet to recognize Mr. Williamson’s leadership and commitment to pro bono and civil rights work as Ms. Brazier encouraged the crowd to continue her husband’s efforts for equal justice.

Metzger 2017 0607 Branton Luncheon 0088For twenty-one years, volunteers from the U.S. Courts for the D.C. Circuit have mentored and tutored students at J.O. Wilson Elementary School. Tracey Scarrow left an end-of-year pizza party with J.O. Wilson students and Chief Judge Merrick Garland to accept the Vincent E. Reed Award on behalf of the Courts.

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Eleven firms, businesses, and organizations stood out this past year for their exceptional commitment to civil rights and justice. Committee Co-Chair Steven Hollman recognized their outstanding achievements, which include: representing incarcerated citizens at parole hearings; forcing critical changes at the highest security federal prison in America; obtaining a groundbreaking $7.5 million settlement to compensate hundreds of Walmart employees who were unable to obtain health insurance for their same-sex spouses prior to 2014; vindicating a woman fired from Chipotle after leaving work for a prenatal appointment; ensuring the DC Department of Human Services becomes language accessible for non- or limited-English speaking clients; winning a $780,000 jury verdict for a woman forced to retire when her Baltimore County employer wouldn’t accommodate her severe allergic reaction to chemicals in her new office; combatting housing discrimination against low-income families using government rent subsidies; fighting for the rights and dignity of a man illegally strip-searched after a baseless traffic stop; tutoring and supporting a local elementary school; challenging the Bureau of Prisons’ failure to provide communication devices for deaf prisoners; and providing financial analysis and damages expertise for our clients.

In his remarks, Committee Executive Director Jonathan Smith thanked our community—the staff, Board, co-counsel, and donors who rose to the challenges of the past year. He especially recognized our clients, who put far more on the line than we as their lawyers are ever asked to do, and what we have learned from them. He concluded with a commitment to continue our civil rights agenda while also being responsive to new threats to racial justice and other attacks on equality. In response to increasing acts of hate and terrorism designed to create fear and enforce racial oppression, Mr. Smith announced a new portal for people to seek help from the Committee:

The Branton Luncheon brought together nearly 900 Committee supporters from law firms, businesses, government, foundations, and other non-profits. The successful event was due in large part to the organization and efforts of our Steering Committee, led by Joe Edmonson of Foley & Lardner LLP and Maureen Donahue Hardwick of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

Next year the Washington Lawyers Committee will celebrate its 50th anniversary. We look forward to recognizing many more achievements of the upcoming year, reflecting on how far we have come in the past 50 years, and turning together towards the next 50 years of meaningful and effective advocacy.

In the meantime, stay engaged with Twitter, Facebook, and our newsletter. If you are interested in volunteering with the Committee, email

In case you missed the luncheon, check out a Storify snapshot of the event below!

 View all photos from the Branton Luncheon!

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