U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson will receive the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall award in recognition of his contribution to the advancement of civil rights.
The presentation will be August 10 during the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco, the group announced Wednesday.
Henderson was the first African-American lawyer in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the federal bench in 1980.
Among his landmark rulings over the years, Henderson was the first federal judge to establish gays and lesbians as a suspect class – a group likely to be subject to discrimination – and thus entitled to greater legal protection in a dispute over military security clearances. (High Tech Gays v. Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office)
He also declared California’s anti-affirmative action statute, Proposition 209, unconstitutional, although the ruling was later overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Coalition for Economic Equality v. Wilson)
He currently presides over the long-running case of California prison overcrowding and as part of a three-judge panel, he ruled that overcrowded conditions led to unconstitutionally bad health care for inmates. The panel said inmate populations had to be reduced. (Plata v. Brown)
He also recently blocked California’s Proposition 35, an Internet disclosure requirement for those convicted of sex crimes, by barring the law for taking effect until a review determines if it violates the First Amendment.
Henderson was also the subject of a documentary of his career, “Soul of Justice.”
Delivering the keynote remarks for the dinner will be James Brosnahan, attorney with Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.