The Leonard E. Weinglass In Defense of Civil Liberties Award is given to an individual—usually, but not necessarily, an attorney—who has made a notable contribution to the defense of civil liberties by bringing, trying, or resolving a suit, or by otherwise protecting or advancing civil liberties, in a way that has had a significant impact in the past year or over the course of his/her career.
The Award is named after civil rights lawyer Leonard E. Weinglass, who has long demonstrated a strong commitment to defending our civil liberties. From his days representing the Chicago Seven (originally, the Chicago Eight) with partner William Kunstler to his more recent representation of the Cuban Five, Weinglass’s clients are a "Who’s Who" of politically targeted criminal defendants. For example, in addition to the Chicago Seven and the Cuban Five, Weinglass has represented Angela Davis, Ron Kaufman, Jane Fonda, Bill and Emily Harris (the kidnappers of Patty Hearst), Native American activists Jimi Simmons, Skyhorse and Mohawk, and death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The criteria considered by the committee for judging the nominees includes:
1. A particular achievement in significantly advancing or protecting civil rights;
2. The public interest significance of the case(s). This includes the civil rights issues that were litigated, the novelty of the issues involved, the importance of the issues, whether the case made "new law," and whether it affected others similarly situated;
3. The harmfulness of the defendant's conduct. This includes the enormity of the wrong committed by the defendant and the degree of suffering or victimization of the plaintiffs;
4. The vulnerability of the rights or individuals protected;
5. The result that was reached in the case(s); and
6. The extent to which the nominee's work advances the goals of
- protecting individuals and their civil liberties;
- holding accountable those who abuse power;
- increasing access to the courts;
- combating threats to our Bill of Rights and our justice system; and
- inspiring lawyers and others to fight to preserve the rights of individuals, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.