The American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award

The application window has closed for the 2018 David Carliner Public Interest Award. Thank you to all who applied. 


"David Carliner was a tremendous advocate for human rights. He was ahead of his time and met incredible resistance for the work he did. We have all benefitted from his courageous work."
- Cathleen Caron, 2010 recipient of the Award

The American Constitution Society's David Carliner Public Interest Award was established in memory of one of the great public interest lawyers of the 20th Century, David Carliner (1918-2007), a champion of justice in his native Washington, D.C. and on the national stage. A tireless, innovative litigator, he also played a leading role in building institutions devoted to protecting civil and human rights and combating injustice on a systemic basis. A pioneering immigration lawyer, an ardent foe of Jim Crow, and a leading champion of full political rights for citizens of the District of Columbia, he also was the founding chair of the American Civil Liberties Union-National Capital Area and the International Human Rights Law Group (now GlobalRights). For more information on David Carliner click here.

The Award recognizes outstanding public interest lawyers whose work best exemplifies its namesake’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people.

David Carliner (1918-2007)       

The Award consists of:

  • A cash prize of $10,000 to one recipient each year plus transportation and lodging, in full, to the ACS National Convention in Washington, DC to accept the Award in person.
  • An award of $2,500 to the recipient's organization, or if the recipient is employed by a government entity, to an appropriate organization of the recipient's choosing, subject to ACS's approval.
  • An award of $2,500 to a finalist if the judges choose one.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

To be considered for the 2018 Award, nominees must:

  • Have graduated from law school between May 2006 and May 2011;
  • Have demonstrated a passionate commitment to public interest law throughout their career and be employed at a nonprofit organization, government entity, or law firm whose mission supports and furthers the causes for which David Carliner stood; and
  • Receive an annual salary of $110,000 or less.

Applicants will be evaluated on the extent to which their accomplishments exemplify David Carliner’s passionate commitment to one or more of the causes for which he worked: civil rights in a broad sense, civil liberties, international human rights and immigrants’ rights. Successful applicants will have pursued one or more of these causes with unwavering determination, creativity and effectiveness. Additionally, successful applicants will have demonstrated their intent to work in the public interest field throughout their careers

Applicants whose work has focused on policy advocacy or litigation will be looked on with equal favor.

In keeping with the legacy of David Carliner, whose career was devoted to achieving a just and inclusive society for all, women, people of color, people with disabilities and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are encouraged to apply.

Finalists may be announced at the discretion of the judges. Applicants will be informed of their status in the spring.

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Judges Panel

In determining the recipient of the 2018 Award, ACS was advised by a panel of judges including:

  • Nan Aron, Executive Director, Alliance for Justice
  • Deborah Carliner, Attorney; Past President, ACLU-NCA
  • William Fletcher, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • Linda Greenhouse, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School
  • Sarah Remes, Board Member, DC Action for Children
  • Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

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Application Process

Please submit the following information:

  • A cover sheet that can be downloaded here and should be emailed with the other materials;
  • A resume or CV;
  • A statement by the applicant or another person nominating an applicant of no more than 1500 words, double spaced, setting forth the applicant's qualifications for the award and including a statement that the applicant’s annual salary is $110,000 or less; and
  • A letter of recommendation from a person familiar with the applicant's work and the criteria for the Award. The most helpful recommendation letter will explain and describe the applicant's creativity, boldness, and effectiveness in the context of the area of law, policy, or social movement in which he or she works. Applications should not include more than one letter of recommendation. Note that the recommendation letter should be written by someone other than the nominator.
  • Please submit applications by March 18, 2018 by 6:00 p.m. EST. 

Applications must be submitted via email to [email protected]. All four documents must be in PDF form and attached to a single email message. Incomplete applications and nominations will not be considered.

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Winners and Finalists

The 2017 Recipient: Beecca Heller, Director, The International Refugee Assistance Project

Since 2008, Becca Heller has gone from being a law student helping six families of Iraqi refugees she met during a summer break to being the leader of an organization providing free, comprehensive legal representation through every step of the registration, protection and resettlement process to refugees seeking safe resettlement. IRAP leverages a growing network of law students from 29 law school chapters and pro bono attorneys from over 75 international firms and corporations to work on the most urgent refugee cases, connecting places with excess legal resources to places with excess legal needs.

In late January, Becca and her team organized thousands of volunteer lawyers at airports around the country to defend the rights of incoming refugees and immigrants caught in the airport chaos created by President Trump’s travel ban. She led a coalition of lawyers and law students with the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and Yale Law School to secure an emergency Temporary Restraining Order only 24 hours after the Executive Order, preventing the nationwide detention and deportation of any immigrants or refugees.


The 2016 Award Recipient: Blaine Bookey, co-legal director, Center For Gender and Refugee Studies

Blaine Bookey, an expert in gender asylum law, has worked on behalf of women and children fleeing gender-based violence and persecution since the first year after law school when she investigated reports of sexual violence in post-earthquake Haiti. As Co-Legal Director at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), she has pushed the U.S. to recognize gender violence as a basis for asylum, winning a great victory in 2014 when the Board of Immigration Appeal—the highest immigration court in the country—adopted CGRS’s legal theories to issue its first published decision granting asylum based on domestic violence. Following this decision, Bookey traveled to a U.S. detention center for immigrant families in Artesia, New Mexico, to counsel attorneys about how to gain asylum protection for the women and children housed at the facility. Fourteen of the 15 cases she worked on resulted in grants of asylum, and she continues to provide counsel in the appeal of the one denial.

The 2016 Finalist was Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center


The 2015 Award Recipient: Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Zachary Norris has been committed to ending mass incarceration for the duration of his career.  Norris’s accomplishments with the Center include winning a jobs-not-jails budget campaign in Alameda County, Calif., that redirected $3 million from traditional criminal justice funding to community investment programs; successfully campaigning against California’s Proposition 6, a 2008 multi-billion dollar bill that would have created tougher criminal sentences for thousands of youths and adults; and launching a national research project on the economic impacts of mass incarceration on families.  Current efforts include campaigns to curb juvenile solitary confinement, reduce prison telephone costs for families of the incarcerated, and eliminate sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine offenses. 

The 2015 Finalist was Darryl Atkinson, Senior Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice.


The 2014 Award Recipient: Peter J. Wagner, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Prison Policy Initiative
Peter Wagner co-founded Prison Policy Initiative in 2001 and has helped grow it to a nationally recognized think tank that highlights the pervasive impact that mass incarceration in the U.S. can have on the economy, the electoral process and even interpersonal relationships. Among its numerous achievements, Prison Policy Initiative has led the charge against prison gerrymandering, working with states such as Maryland to end the practice that gives outsized political clout to legislative districts that contain prisons. Wagner has also served as an Instructor at Smith College, teaching courses on constitutional law and the prison industrial complex. In 2013, he was given the Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The 2014 Finalist was: Barbara Graves-Poller, Supervising Attorney, MFY Legal Services, Inc.

The 2013 Award Recipient: Kara L. Hartzler, Attorney, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.; Member, Board of Directors, ACS San Diego Lawyer Chapter

Kara L. Hartzler served as an appellate attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.  She specialized in the immigration consequences of criminal convictions while working as Legal Director and Criminal Immigration Consultant at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona and is the author of Surviving Padilla: A Defender’s Guide to Advising Noncitizens on the Immigration Consequences of Criminal Convictions.  In 2008, Hartzler testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration on the detentionand deportation of citizens and other due process violations in the immigration system. She is also an active playwright whose plays have been performed and published in the United States and internationally. At the Convention’s Carliner Award announcement, Hartzler said, “Immigration law is not just about people coming to the United States, it’s about how we treat them once they get there. And in that respect we still have a long way to go.”

Kara Hartzler reflected on the award at ACSblog and in the interview below.


The 2012 Award Recipient: Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders

Janson Wu served as the Staff Attorney at the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, MA.  He was a member of the legal team litigating GLAD’s two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, one of which won a judgment from a federal appeals court that DOMA is unconstitutional,  and was lead attorney on a variety of successful cases involving transgender rights. Janson is now the Executive Director of GLAD.

The 2012 Finalist was: Kate Mogulescu, Project Director, Trafficking Victims Legal Defense & Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society NY, Criminal Defense Practice.


The 2011 Award Recipient: Dori Rose Inda, Watsonville Law Center

Dori Rose Inda founded the Watsonville Law Center in 2002 after identifying a critical gap in legal services in the Watsonville, Calif. area. She has since developed an innovative health access project to ensure low-wage workers injured on the job receive legally required health and financial benefits.


The 2010 Award Recipient: Cathleen Caron, Global Workers Justice Aliance

Cathleen Caron, founder and director of Global Workers Justice Alliance, was

recognized in 2010 for her important work to combat worker exploitation and to promote transnational "portable justice" for workers around the world.

The 2010 Finalists were: Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates Inc.; Belinda Helzer, ACLU Foundation of Southern California; Marco Simons, EarthRights International; Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.


The 2009 Award Recipient: Tim Freilich, Legal Aid Justice Center

Tim Freilich serves as Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA. Under his direction, the program works to support day laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers in the region and promotes justice and fair treatment in the workplace.

The 2009 Finalists were: Ahilan Arulanantham, ACLU of Southern California; Mónica Ramírez, Southern Poverty Law Center; Shirin Sinnar, Asian Law Caucus; McGregor Smyth, The Bronx Defenders.


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News Articles on David Carliner

"David Carliner; Active in Unpopular Causes," The Washington Post (Sept. 23, 2007)

"David Carliner, Lawyer and Immigration Advocate Is Dead at 89," The New York Times (Sept. 22, 2007)

"Immigrant Advocate Freilich Wins Public Interest Award," Daily Progress (June 21, 2009)

"Seeking Lawyers Who Get the Dirt Out," ACSblog, guest post by Jacob Remes (January 17, 2012)

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