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Fellows Awards

Nominations are Now Open for 2023 Fellows Awards

ABF Fellows Nomination Form

Outstanding Service Award

The Fellows shall, on an annual basis, select a Fellow for the Outstanding Service Award, who has, in his or her professional career, adhered for more than thirty years* to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession and to the service of the public.

*Prior to 2006, the Outstanding Service Award required fifty years of service.

Outstanding Scholar Award

The Fellows shall, on an annual basis, select a person, not necessarily a Fellow, for the Outstanding Scholar Award, who has engaged in outstanding scholarship in the law or in government.

Outstanding State Chair Award

The Fellows Officers shall, on an annual basis, select a current State Chair for the Outstanding State Chair Award, who has demonstrated a dedication to the work of the Foundation and the mission of the Fellows through exceptional efforts on behalf of the Fellows at the state level.

Other Fellows Awards

The Fellows shall, from time to time, select a Fellow to receive a special award in recognition of a lifetime of sustained and significant professional achievement and public service including Distinguished Life Fellow Award and Distinguished Career In Memorium Award.

For a full list of all previous award winners click here. 


We are pleased to announce the 2022 Fellows Awards honorees. The 66th Annual Fellows Awards Banquet was held virtually in February 2022.

Outstanding Service Award  -- HonVanessa Ruiz, District of Columbia Court of Appeals

Vanessa Ruiz is a Senior Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. She was appointed to the court in 1994 after nomination by the President of the United States and confirmation by the Senate of the United States. A Life Fellow of the ABF, she is the longest-serving woman on the court and the first (and only) Hispanic appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals and as chief legal officer for the District of Columbia.

She has been a leader in judicial ethics and access to justice initiatives. She chaired the D.C. Courts’ Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, is a judicial member of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission and a recognized national voice for enhancing access to justice for those who are unrepresented, immigrants, and language minorities. 

 Judge Ruiz participates in a number of local, national and international organizations.  She is the Immediate Past President of the International Association of Women Judges, former Chair of its Board of Managerial Trustees, and a Past President of the U.S. National Association of Women Judges. She led the American Bar Association to adopt Standards for Language Access in Courts. She was the first judicial member of the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Committee, a member of the Board of the Council for Court Excellence, and the Judicial Council of the D.C. Hispanic Bar Association. Judge Ruiz is a member of the American Law Institute. She served as Trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Judge Ruiz speaks, at home and abroad, on issues essential to the judiciary: judicial independence and integrity, access to justice, and the necessary interface with the inclusion of women and minorities in the judiciary, equality, and a gender perspective. She emphasizes civil society initiatives to improve and strengthen the judiciary, including the importance of citizen understanding of the courts and judges’ participation in civic education in a democratic society. She serves as mentor to students, lawyers, and judges.

 Upon graduation from law school, Judge Ruiz practiced law working on international, commercial, and intellectual property transactions and arbitration.  Five years out of law school, she successfully briefed and argued an important civil rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court that established the standing of certain nonprofit organizations. After fifteen years in private practice, she turned to public service, and became the Corporation Counsel (now Attorney General) for the District of Columbia.

 Judge Ruiz has received numerous awards. Among them: Judge of the Year from the Hispanic National Bar Association; Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C.; Latina Leader in Law Award from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; the first Vaino Spencer Leadership Award of the National Association of Women Judges; Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Legal Service from MALDEF; Woman Lawyer of the Year by the D.C. Women’s Bar Association. Judge Ruiz was honored with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. She received an honorary doctorate from the Washington College of Law, American University.

Judge Ruiz has taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and ESADE Law School in Barcelona. She is co-author of Europe Without Frontiers: A Lawyer’s Guide (BNA 1989).

Judge Ruiz was born and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  She graduated from Wellesley College in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1975.  She is married to former ambassador David E. Birenbaum.

Outstanding Scholar Award -- Professor Martha Albertson Fineman, Emory University School of Law

Professor Fineman is a Life Fellow of the ABF, and her areas of expertise include the legal regulation of intimacy, feminist legal theory, jurisprudence, and vulnerability theory. Following graduation from University of Chicago Law School, Professor Fineman clerked for the Hon. Luther M. Swygert of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  She has taught at University of Wisconsin and Columbia University. In 1999 she became the first holder of the only endowed Chair in the nation in Feminist Jurisprudence at Cornell Law School, a position she held until 2004 when she came to Emory University as a Robert W. Woodruff Professor.  Fineman has won numerous awards for her writing and teaching, including the prestigious Harry J Kalven, Jr. Prize for Distinguished Research in Law and Society and the Ruth Bader Ginsberg Lifetime Achievement Award.  She also was awarded the Degree of Doctor Honoris Causa, Faculty of Law, Lund University, Sweden.

At Emory, Fineman serves as the founding director of the Feminism and Legal Theory (FLT) Project, which was inaugurated in 1984 at the University of Wisconsin. The FLT Project published the first anthology of feminist legal theory, At the Boundaries of Law: Feminism and Legal Theory Routledge Press, (1990), which was followed in 2010 with a 25th anniversary edition: Transcending the Boundaries of Law: Generations of Feminism and Legal Theory. The Project has published over a dozen other collections of feminist legal theory edited by Fineman.

The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative (VHC) emerged from the Feminism and Legal Theory Project in 2008 and comprises the bulk of Fineman’s current research and writing. Fineman serves as founding director of the VHC and organizes several local and international academic workshops each year. Vulnerability theory offers an alternative paradigm to both a human rights and a social contract approach to state responsibility and social justice.  Fineman’s recent vulnerability theory publications include book chapters titled “Reasoning from the Body,” in Jurisprudence of the Body, Palgrave Press: M. A. Thomson, M. Travis Eds. (2020) and “The Limits of Equality: Vulnerability and Inevitable Inequality,” in Feminist Jurisprudence, Elgar Press: Bowman, C. and West, R. Eds.  Edited collections on vulnerability theory include Re-Conceiving Equality and Freedom: Vulnerability, Dependency, and the Responsive Stateforthcoming, Routledge (2022) and Vulnerability and the Legal Organization of Work (Routledge 2019).

Outstanding State Chair Award -- William T. Coplin, Jr., Esq., Alabama

Mr. Coplin received his B.S. from Jacksonville State University and his J.D. from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He served as municipal judge for the Cities of Demopolis and Faunsdale, as Assistant District Attorney for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of Alabama and as City Attorney for the Town of Myrtlewood. From 1997 through 2015 he represented Alabama lawyers in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association. 

In January 2006, he became the first attorney in Alabama to be board certified in social security disability by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. In 2009 he was the first attorney in Alabama to be recognized in the area of social security disability by Super Lawyers magazine, and he has been named a Super Lawyer twelve years in a row. Mr. Coplin has served as president of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, President of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce and President of the Marengo County Historical Society. In 2012 he was appointed for a three year term on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, representing District 5, which is composed of lawyers in Alabama, North Carolina and Kentucky. In 2015, he was elected Alabama State Chairman of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation.

He is a Benefactor Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a member of the Atticus Finch Society of the Alabama Bar Foundation. He has served as Chairman of the Marengo County Democratic Executive Committee since May, 1990. He served as trustee of Samford University from 1985 to 1997. He served as a trustee of the Alabama State Baptist Foundation from 2010 to 2016. He is admitted to practice before the U. S. Supreme Court, the Alabama Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama. He and his wife, Betsy, have four children and eight grandchildren.

Distinguished Career In Memoriam -- Hon. Robert A. Katzmann

Robert A. Katzmann served as United States Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from September 1, 2013 - August 31, 2020. At his appointment to the federal bench in 1999, he was Walsh Professor of Government, Professor of Law and Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University; a Fellow of the Governmental Studies Program of the Brookings Institution; and president of the Governance Institute.

A lawyer and political scientist by training, Judge Katzmann received his A.B. (summa cum laude) from Columbia College, A.M. and Ph.D in government from Harvard University, and a J.D. from the Yale Law School, where he was an Article and Book Review Editor of the Yale Law Journal. After clerking on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, he joined the Brookings Institution, where he was a research associate, senior fellow, visiting fellow, and acting program director. His books include: the recently published Judging Statutes; Regulatory Bureaucracy; Institutional Disability; Courts and Congress; editor and project director of The Law Firm and the Public Good; co-editor of Managing Appeals in Federal Court; editor and contributing author of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life; and editor and contributing author of Judges and Legislators.

As Chief Judge, he launched a wide-ranging civic education initiative of the federal courts of the Second Circuit, Justice For All: Courts and the Community, to increase public understanding of the federal judiciary and to bring courts closer to the communities they serve. During his tenure as Chief Judge, the Court of Appeals also undertook a 125th anniversary retrospective.

In his early years on the bench, Judge Katzmann witnessed the inadequate legal representation of non-citizens and its adverse impact on the fair and effective administration of justice. Greatly concerned, in 2007 he delivered the Marden Lecture of the New York City Bar, The Legal Profession and the Unmet Needs of the Immigrant Poor, and, inspired by the enthusiastic response, soon after organized an interdisciplinary Study Group on Immigrant Representation, from which emanated the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the first government funded program of legal counsel for detained noncitizens. Chief Judge Katzmann sparked the creation, in 2014, of the non-profit Immigrant Justice Corps, the country's first fellowship program for recent law school and college graduates, dedicated to meeting the need for high-quality legal assistance for immigrants.

His honors include the Learned Hand Medal of the Federal Bar Council, the Edward Weinfeld Award of the New York County Lawyers Association, the Fuld Award of the New York State Bar Association, the Green Bag award for legal writing, the Charles E. Merriam Award of the American Political Science Association, the Thurgood Marshall Award of the American Bar Association, membership as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and several honorary degrees. He has served on many judicial and governmental committees, and on law school boards, including, by appointment of the Chief Justice, as Chair of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch, a member of the Executive Committee of the U.S Judicial Conference and as Chair of the Supreme Court Fellows Commission.

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