Michigan Fellow Dennis Archer, the former mayor of Detroit and justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as past president of the ABA, has received the ABA Medal, the highest award of the American Bar Association.
In announcing the award, ABA President Paulette Brown cited Archer’s many contributions to the legal profession. “As a practicing lawyer, state Supreme Court justice, mayor of Detroit, chairman of his firm and first African-American president of the ABA, Dennis Archer’s professional accomplishments are unparalleled, and he is held in the highest regard by his peers. On a personal level, Dennis has been a wise and encouraging mentor and role model to me and countless other diverse lawyers. He truly exemplifies the ‘conspicuous service to the cause of American jurisprudence’ the ABA Medal recognizes.”
The son of a disabled caretaker, Archer was raised in Cassopolis, Mich., graduated from Western Michigan University in 1965, and taught learning-disabled children in the Detroit public schools from 1965-70 while earning his J.D. from the Detroit College of Law in 1970. He then began a career notable for the breadth of its professional, civic and charitable activities.
“I am indeed, humbled and deeply honored,” Archer said. “I have been serving in our House of Delegates since 1979. And each year whenever the ABA Medal has been awarded, I have felt that those who were awarded the medal were outstanding legal giants and absolutely worthy of receiving the highest award that the ABA can bestow upon a lawyer or judge.”
“As I sat there over the years I always wondered whether or not I might be found worthy even for consideration when you think about award winners of the magnitude of a Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Hillary Clinton. So when Paulette Brown let me know I would receive the award, I did all that I could to contain my emotions because it is such a unique and high honor.”
In addition to practicing law at Detroit firms, Archer became known for his ability to relate to both jurors and the bench, including now as chairman emeritus at Dickinson Wright PLLC. Archer was on the faculty of Detroit College of Law from 1972-78 and at Wayne State University Law School from 1984-85.
Archer served as a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1986-90, where Michigan Lawyers Weekly named him “most respected judge in Michigan” in his final year.
In addition to serving on numerous charitable and civic boards in his city, including the Detroit Arts Commission, YMCA of Detroit and United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Archer has been active in several bar associations, eventually serving as president of the State Bar of Michigan, Wolverine Bar Association and National Bar Association as well as making history by breaking the color barrier as the first African-American president of the ABA in 2003. He has been chairman of The InfiLaw System, a consortium of independent, ABA-approved for-profit law schools, since 2004.
In recognition of his leadership and wise counsel, he has received 17 honorary Doctor of Law degrees during his long career.
As mayor of Detroit from 1993-2001, Archer promoted economic growth to reinvigorate the downtown and worked with the federal government so that Detroit became one of the first cities to receive federal “empowerment zone” status. He also served as president of the National League of Cities.
Although frequently the first person of color to attain the many roles he has held, Archer worked tirelessly to ensure opportunities for everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin or physical ability.
Archer received the ABA Medal at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco during the General Assembly on August 6th.
The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence and is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession. Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor. Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; human rights activist Father Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; and prominent attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson.