Hats off to The Honorable Lawrence R. Baca! Mr. Baca was recently named the 2017 recipient of the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award. The Federal Bar Association established the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award “to honor that man or woman who promotes the advancement of civil and human rights amongst us, and who exemplifies Judge Hughes’ spirit a legacy of devoted service and leadership in the cause of equality.” Mr. Baca has dedicated his career to addressing American Indian civil rights issues.
Mr. Baca joins the ranks of accomplished judges and attorneys who made a difference in advancing those same causes, including Judge Hughes, who was a pioneer in the fight for civil rights, due process, equal protection, social concerns, and the rights of women. Past recipients of the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award include Hon. Walter R. Echo-Hawk, Jr. (Native American Attorney instrumental in the passage of landmark laws like Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments), Assistant United States Attorney Alessandra Serano (Coordinator for Project Safe Childhood), Hon. Harold Barefoot Sanders Jr., (Federal Judge overseeing lawsuit in of Dallas Independent School District desegregation case), and Executive Director, Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center Mary Meg McCarthy (created a legal network that provides pro bono immigrant legal services to 10,000 clients).
When Mr. Baca began work with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), he was the first American Indian lawyer hired through the Attorney General’s Honor Law Program. As the deputy director of the Office of Tribal Justice, Mr. Baca addressed civil rights issues concerning American Indians. Mr. Baca later became the first American Indian attorney to work at the Civil Rights Division (CRD) at the DOJ. His work at CRD included working for the Office of Indian Rights, General Litigation Section, Housing and Civil Enforcement, and Educational Opportunities Litigation Section. Eventually, he served four years as the Deputy Director of the Office of Tribal Justice and after 32 years of service Mr. Baca retired from the DOJ. He continues his work supporting civil rights in the American Indian Committee. Mr. Baca recently developed and presented a running exhibit on the use of American Indian imagery in advertising, which we previously discussed in this forum and which will also be featured at the Washington D.C. Museum of the American Indian next year. As a tribute of his career-long impact to American Indian legal and social causes, the Federal Bar Association Lifetime Achievement Award for service to the American Indian Bar is titled the “Lawrence Baca Lifetime Achievement Award.”
His work in United States v. Great Western Bank & Trust addressed Indians equal access to credit. Then in United States v. South Dakota and Fall River County, Mr. Baca helped secure the right for Indians on a reservation to run for public office. In Meyers & United States v. San Juan County School District, Mr. Baca convinced the United States to intervene on behalf of American Indian students’ right to equal education. The list of his legal accomplishments runs long, as does his passion for supporting American Indian civil rights.
Additionally, Mr. Baca formed the American Indian Lawyers Association of the DOJ, serving as Chairman for 30 years, and established the Indian Law Section of the Federal Bar Association. While serving on the Federal Bar Association National Board he was selected as president, which made him the first American Indian president of any national non-Native bar association.
Well done Honorable Lawrence Baca! You have helped your people. You have fought for civil rights, equal protection, and social justice for all American Indians and have inspired the next generation of American Indian lawyers to do the same.
Additional information about all past recipients of the Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award can be found here.
Daune Cardenas is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and a rising 3L at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law. She is the outgoing Social Director of U of A’s Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) as well as current National NALSA Area 4 Representative. Daune is a recipient of the 2017 Procopio Native American Internship.