FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Stephanie Franklin, Director of Communications –202-727-1145; [email protected]
Mayor Bowser Announces Paul M. Smith as Neil Alexander Humanitarian Award Recipient at 8th Annual Commission on Human Rights Gala
Awards gala honors the legacy of civil and human rights milestones celebrated in 2018
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Mayor Bowser, the DC Commission on Human Rights (COHR) and the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR) honored attorney Paul M. Smith with the 2018 Cornelius R. “Neil” Alexander Humanitarian Award at the 8th Annual Commission on Human Rights Awards Gala. The award is named in honor of the longtime Chief Administrative Law Judge of the District's Commission on Human Rights. At the event, COHR and OHR also celebrated the legacy of several civil and human rights milestones. The gala is held each December to commemorate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This year marks the 70th anniversary of the UDHR as well as other milestones including the 10th anniversary of the District as the first U.S. Human Rights City, and the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Mr. Smith, currently the Vice President of Litigation & Strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is an accomplished civil rights attorney with more than three decades of experience litigating a wide range of cases that have advanced civil liberties nationally. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 21 times and secured numerous victories, most notably Lawrence v. Texas, a landmark gay rights case. In 2010, Paul was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award by the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities for his work promoting civil rights and civil liberties.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of important cases in my legal career, but what was uniquely special was the opportunity to argue the Lawrence case back in 2003” said Mr. Smith. “It was a game-changer for the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. And it happened just because I was in the right place at the right time.”
In addition to Mr. Smith, District high school students selected as finalists in a capstone project, led by Georgetown University Law Center’s Street Law Clinic, were recognized for their participation in a mock trials contest held in early November. Over 250 students from 10 DC Public Schools and the DC Jail participated and overall top performers included students from Anacostia High School, the DC Jail Young Emerging Unit at Central Treatment Facility and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
“These mock trials familiarize students with the practice of law, as well as teaching them about their own rights and the vitality of our local law to protect many vulnerable populations” said Chief Administrative Law Judge at the Commission on Human Rights, David Simmons. “We must continue to educate the generations ahead on the strides we’ve made and empower them to keep building a legacy towards a more fair, just and inclusive city and country for us all.”
The Human Rights capstone project – a joint venture between the COHR and the Georgetown University Law Center’s Street Law Clinic – has law students teach high school students legal reasoning, advocacy skills about the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act over the course of a semester. DCPS High School students then use this newfound knowledge to become lawyers and witnesses and compete in the culminating event; a mini mock trial in front of real judges.
About the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights
The Commission on Human Rights is a quasi-independent body whose primary function is to adjudicate private sector discrimination complaints brought under the DC Human Rights Act. It is comprised of 15 volunteer Commissioners appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Three administrative law judges assist the Commission in upholding its responsibilities.
About the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (OHR) was established to eradicate discrimination, increase equal opportunity and protect human rights for persons who live in or visit the District of Columbia. The agency enforces local and federal human rights laws, including the DC Human Rights Act, by providing a legal process to those who believe they have been discriminated against. OHR also proactively enforces human rights in the District through Director’s Inquiries, which allow it to identify and investigate practices and policies that may be discriminatory.