ABA honors California lawyer with Robert F. Drinan Award

The American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice will honor Gerald “Jerry” Gardner with its Father Robert F. Drinan Award.

Gardner is the first indigenous person to receive the award, which honors those who have strengthened the section’s mission to provide leadership to the legal profession by protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties and social justice.

The California lawyer and civil rights and social justice advocate will be honored for his distinguished service at an online presentation Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. during the 2022 Virtual CRSJ Midyear Council Meeting.

“Jerry passionately advocates for issues dear to us but does so in a way that unifies and doesn’t divide,” said Beth Whittenbury, chair of the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. “He brings humor when we need it but is relentlessly ours as he seriously pursues our causes.”

Gardner has more than 40 years of experience advocating for and working with American Indian/Alaska Native nations, tribal court systems and victims of crime in Indian country. He has served as the executive director of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute since 1996. The institute is a Native American-run nonprofit that provides free resources, training and technical assistance to Native nations, tribal justice systems and tribal victim services programs.

Gardner has been active with the ABA for nearly 20 years and has served as special counsel to the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice since 2019. He is a member of the Judicial Division’s Tribal Courts Council, and his significant contributions to the development of ABA policies addressing Native American issues supports ABA advocacy on American Indian and Alaska Native issues.

Gardner worked as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, UCLA School of Law and Southwestern School of Law. He also served as the administrator for the National American Indian Court Judges Association and as an appellate court judge for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota and Poarch Creek Band in Alabama. He was also a senior staff attorney with the National Indian Justice Center (NIJC) from its inception in 1983 until 1996. Gardner also served as a professional staff member from 1978-79 at the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Established by the American Bar Association and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice (formerly the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities) in 2001, the Robert F. Drinan Jr. Award for Distinguished Service is named in honor of the late Father Robert F. Drinan, a former member of Congress and a founding member of the section.