Jenner & Block

Smith Receives ABA's Prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award

Jenner & Block Partner Paul M. Smith received the prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.

Established in 1992 to honor the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice who was a champion for the rights and freedoms of all Americans, the Thurgood Marshall Award is presented to individuals who have made "substantial and long-term contributions to the furtherance of civil rights, civil liberties, or human rights in the United States."  Past recipients of this award include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the Honorable Abner J. Mikva, and numerous other pioneering lawyers and judges.

Mr. Smith has made substantial contributions to the furtherance of civil liberties and human rights. In 2003, he argued and won Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark gay rights case that has often been compared to the Brown v. Board of Education case argued and won by Thurgood Marshall. Mr. Smith’s work to advance LGBT civil rights since Lawrence has continued unabated.  He has filed a series of influential amicus briefs in the state litigation concerning same-sex marriage.  Mr. Smith recently led the Jenner & Block team that helped secure a victory in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a landmark case that challenged the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA").  He also led the team that helped secure a victory for the Firm’s client, Hastings Outlaw, in the closely watched case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez before the Supreme Court.  The Court determined that a public university law school can require student groups it recognizes to open their membership to all students, and decline to fund a religious student group that requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious beliefs, effectively excluding gay and lesbian students and students with other religious beliefs. The Court ruled that the university did not violate First Amendment rights when denying recognition to a group with an exclusionary membership policy.

Mr. Smith’s commitment to civil rights extends into the realm of voting rights. He maintains a thriving election law practice and he has argued three times before the U.S. Supreme Court in voting rights matters since 2004. His most recent argument was in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a 2008 case challenging an Indiana voter ID law, which has been called the most significant election law case to reach the Court since Bush v. Gore in 2000.

In addition, Mr. Smith also maintains a successful First Amendment practice. In this area, over the last several years he has represented the video game industry in challenging numerous state and local laws regulating the sale or distribution of video games based on their content. Mr. Smith has led a Jenner & Block team to a perfect 8-0 record by repeatedly persuading courts to strike down such laws as unconstitutional violations of free speech.

Mr. Smith received the award at a ceremony during the ABA’s 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco on August 7.