19 finalists for ABA’s Silver Gavel Awards announced

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Law in Popular Culture

Silver Gavel

The American Bar Association has announced 19 finalists for the 2017 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the awards, which are intended to honor “outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system,” according to the press release.

The first Silver Gavel Award was given out in 1958 to the film 12 Angry Men, which starred Henry Fonda and was named by the ABA Journal in 2008 as one of the 25 greatest legal movies. The classic movies Judgment at Nuremberg and To Kill a Mockingbird won awards in 1962 and 1963, respectively.

Over the years, the types of media awarded Silver Gavels have expanded. Awards and honorable mentions are now available in the categories of books, commentary, documentaries, drama & literature, magazines, multimedia, newspapers, radio and television—but not every category will necessarily have an award given out every year. This year, there are no nominees in the drama & literature category, for example.

The finalists for this year’s Silver Gavel Awards addressed a wide range of topics, including police militarization, the death penalty, immigration, affirmative action, abortion legislation and the mental health system. They were selected by a committee of 45 lawyers from 156 entries.

The 2017 nominees include the book Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s by Risa Goluboff, which was featured in one of the ABA Journal’s Modern Law Library podcasts. Vagrant Nation explored the way vagrancy laws were used as catchall ways to increase police power to control minority populations, and how civil rights suits eventually were able to defeat them in court.

“The ABA’s Gavel Awards Screening Committee members were challenged to select finalists among so many worthy entries,” said Stephen C. Edds, chair of the Standing Committee on Gavel Awards, in the press release. “We congratulate our finalists and look forward to identifying awardees among an already select group.”

The 18-member Standing Committee on Gavel Awards will select from the finalists and announce the winners and honorable mentions May 10, and an award ceremony will be held on July 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The full list of finalists is as follows:


Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond

The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution, by Michael Klarman

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, by Adam Cohen

Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s, by Risa Goluboff


• “It’s Been 40 Years Since the Supreme Court Tried to Fix the Death Penalty—Here’s How It Failed,” featured in The Marshall Project, written by Prof. Evan Mandery of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice


Admissions on Trial: Seven Decades of Race and Higher Education, produced by Villita Media for KLRU-TV

Do Not Resist, produced by VANISH Films

Trapped, produced by Trilogy Films


• “Where the Death Penalty Still Lives,” featured in New York Times Magazine


Doubled Up In Solitary Confinement, a series reported and published in partnership between NPR News Investigations and The Marshall Project


• “A Cry for Help,” featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

• “Forsaken: Florida’s Broken Mental Health System,” featured in the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

• “No Money, No Mercy,” featured in the New York Times


“…and justice for all.” produced by Alabama Public Radio

More Perfect, produced by WNYC Studios

This Land Is Our Land, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting


• “The Border,” produced by FOX5 Las Vegas

• “48 Hours: The Fight for Melissa,” produced by 48 Hours/CBS News.

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