Dear Friends of Washington Lawyers’ Committee,

I regret to announce that the Washington Lawyers’ Committee is forced to cancel the Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon, which was scheduled for June 17. After much discussion, we realized that it will be impossible to reschedule the event this year.

The Branton Lunch is a time for us to get together and celebrate the courage of our clients and hard work of our law firm partners and staff. We had much to celebrate this year with important victories in all areas of our practice made possible by the hard work of dozens of law firms and scores of lawyers. While we will not be able to gather as a community for the lunch, over the course of the rest of the year, we will feature the Outstanding Achievement Awardees on our webpage and in our communications with the legal community and our supporters.

We will hold the lunch next year on June 16 at the JW Marriott. I am thrilled to announce that we will be recognizing our named award recipients at that time: Neal Katyal with the Wiley A. Branton Award; Marc Efron with the Rod Boggs Award; the Friends of Ketcham Elementary School (FoKES) with Vincent E. Reed Award; and a special recognition of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Steve Salky of Zuckerman Spaeder with the Alfred McKenzie Award for the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse.

Finally, COVID-19 has further deepened racial and economic injustice. I am proud of the way that the Committee and our partners have responded to the crisis. With the incredible support of the legal community, we have been able to bring significant litigation and expand our program to meet the desperate needs of those experiencing the greatest burden. This urgent work will be necessary for some time and we are grateful that so many colleagues have stepped forward to take on the very hard work of fighting for justice in the midst of this crisis.

Thank you to everyone for your support, and understanding.  I look forward to our gathering next year.

Stay safe.


Jonathan M. Smith
Executive Director

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee partners with the private bar and nonprofits to provide legal assistance to individuals and communities who experience violations of their civil rights.  Each year, area lawyers and law firms contribute thousands of hours of their time on cases and projects. During the Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon, the Committee recognizes these important law firm and advocacy organization partnerships through Outstanding Achievement Awards.

ACLU of Maryland
Brown Goldstein Levy LLP
Disability Rights California
Jones Day
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Latham & Watkins LLP
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Public Interest Law Project
Robbins Salomon & Patt, Ltd
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
Sidley Austin LLP
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP
Wiley Rein LLP

Compassionate Release Clearinghouse:

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP
Baker Botts LLP
Barnes & Thornburg LLP
Barrasso Usdin Kupperman Freeman & Sarver LLC
Buckley LLP
Coburn & Greenbaum PLLC
Crowell & Moring LLP
DiMuroGinsberg PC
Duncan Earnest LLC
Finch McCranie LLP
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Good Schneider Cormier & Fried
Hogan Lovells
Jenner & Block
KaiserDillon PLLC
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
King & Spalding LLP
Legal Law Clinic
Martin Law Office
Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP
Parrish, Kruidenier, DunnBoles, Gribble, Gentry, Brown & Bergmann LLP
Paul Hastings LLP
Perkins Coie LLP
Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP
Robert Abell Law
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLLP
Spencer Fane LLP
The Law Office of Stillinger Godinez
The Weinhardt Law Firm
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
Womble Bond Dickinson LLP
Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

Wiley A. Branton was a tireless advocate for civil rights and equal justice throughout his entire career—as a private practitioner in Arkansas, a leader of federal agencies in Washington, and a Dean of the Howard University School of Law. The Wiley A. Branton Award is annually bestowed upon members of the legal community whose careers embody a deep and abiding commitment to civil rights and economic justice advocacy.

wiley branton
Wiley A. Branton, Sr.

Dean Branton started his career in private practice in Arkansas in the 1950’s, representing African-American criminal defendants in often racially charged prosecutions. Working with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, he took on some of the most significant civil rights cases in the South, including the representation of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi, who were arrested for desegregating public transportation and public accommodations.

Among his most notable cases was the litigation that desegregated the Little Rock public schools. It was Dean Branton’s injunction that led to President Eisenhower calling out federal troops to escort African-American students to school. From 1962 to 1965, he led the Voter Education Project in Atlanta. During the three years he was at the helm, the project registered more than 600,000 African Americans to vote.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Dean Branton to lead the President’s Council on Equal Opportunity and then to work on the implementation of the Civil Rights Act as special assistant to the United States Attorney General. In 1967, he became executive director of the United Planning Organization, the District of Columbia’s anti-poverty agency. Two years later, he directed the social action program of the Alliance for Labor Action.

From 1978 to 1983, Mr. Branton was dean of Howard University Law School. During his tenure at Howard, he dedicated himself to the training of the next generation of civil rights advocates.

Following Dean Branton’s death in 1988, his friend Justice Thurgood Marshall remembered him as a great man who “believed in people and believed in what was right.’’

Wiley Branton was an inspiration to everyone who had the privilege of knowing and working with him. He personified the legal profession’s ideal of pro bono service that is at the heart of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s missionThe Wiley A. Branton Award was first bestowed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee in 1989. It takes its name from Wiley A. Branton, Sr., an extraordinary man whose life embodied civil rights advocacy of the highest order.


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