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Constitution Section Honors Williams

Constitution Section Honors Williams

Leto Copely presents award to James E. Williams Jr.

James E. Williams Jr. of Durham was honored on Friday, Dec. 13, as the 2019-20 recipient of the John McNeill Smith Jr. Constitutional Rights and Responsibilities Section Award.

The award was presented at the section’s annual meeting and CLE at the N.C. Bar Center by Leto Copely who chaired the section’s awards committee and serves on the section council.

Williams presently serves as of counsel attorney for The Center for Death Penalty Litigation. He joined the CDPL in 2018 following a distinguished career as chief public defender for Orange and Chatham counties, where he served from 1990-2017.

Williams is a graduate of Duke University (1973) and Duke University School of Law (1979). In 2016 he received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the N.C. Advocates for Justice, where he served on the Board of Governors. In 2017 received the Frank Porter Graham Award for Lifetime Achievement from the North Carolina ACLU.

Williams is the founder and board member of the North Carolina Public Defender Committee on Racial Equality, and served as its president from 2011-16.

“James Williams has led multiple state and local efforts to eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system,” stated documentation submitted in support of this nomination.

“James,” the nomination continues, “has worked tirelessly to promote awareness of matters involving civil and constitutional rights through hosting countless community forums, screenings and events. His commitment to community education causes him to be considered a force by those who know him and work with him.”

The John McNeill Smith Jr. Constitutional Rights and Responsibilities Section Award honors a person who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the ideals embodied in the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of North Carolina by the following: (a) Promoted the awareness and understanding on the part of the profession, the public, and/or public officials of the rights embodied in the Constitution of the United States and/or the Constitution of North Carolina; (b) Encouraged respect for the American constitutional system and the rule of law; and (c) Helped forward the discussion and debate of constitutional issues by the public and/or the profession.

The late John McNeill Smith Jr., who died in 2011, was the founding chair of the NCBA’s Constitutional Rights & Responsibilities Section, serving from 1995-97.

Previous recipients of the John McNeill Smith Jr. Constitutional Rights and Responsibilities Section Award are:

  • Dean John Charles “Jack” Boger (2007)
  • John L. Sanders (2008)
  • Justice James G. Exum Jr. (2009)
  • Bertha “B” Merrill Holt (2010)
  • Justice Willis P. Whichard (2011)
  • Justice Paul M. Newby (2012)
  • Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr. (2013)
  • Justice Robert F. Orr (2014)
  • Hugh Stevens (2015)
  • John Orth (2016)
  • Walter E. Dellinger III (2017)
  • Justice Robin Hudson (2018)
  • Henry M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr. (2019)

Background information included in this report was obtained from the website of The Center for Death Penalty Litigation; click here to access the complete biographical sketch on James E. Williams Jr.