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Nicole Austin-Hillery: 2019 Presidents Award for Public Service

Nicole Austin-Hillery has long been recognized as a passionate, mission-driven, and committed civil rights leader fighting for the disenfranchised. As the newly created U.S. Program Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, she directs efforts to end systemic injustice within the United States. Nicole is a fervent advocate for progressive public policies addressing a wide range of human rights issues, from immigration to national security, criminal justice, and civil rights.

Nicole has been blazing new trails and taking on unique challenges throughout her career. Before embarking on her current role with Human Rights Watch, Nicole served as the first Director and Counsel of The Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office where she led policy development and represented the organization before Congress. Nicole pressed for substantive results through her testimony before the Executive Branch and various state and local legislative bodies, and lead conversations that prompted action through her widely-read opinion editorials for major news outlets such as Time Magazine, The Hill, and

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Howard University School of Law, Nicole has always fought injustice. She spent her early career as a civil rights attorney at the law firm of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC as part of the firm’s civil rights employment class action practice. She also worked as the George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Law Fellow at the national office of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C.

Nicole puts thought into practice through her wide and far-reaching pro bono service to the legal community. While many know her as the 2018-2019 President of the Washington Bar Association, she also has served as an Advisory Committee Member of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law and as co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Defense Function Committee. Additionally, Nicole inspires the next generation of social justice warriors as an adjunct civil rights professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and as a former Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Despite her busy schedule, Nicole has been an insightful contributor to Washington Council of Lawyers. She served as a past President and currently serves as co-chair of the Honorary Board Committee. Nicole is a long-time Washington Council of Lawyers board member and has been a fixture at our Summer Pro Bono and Public Interest Forum. In addition to serving as a breakout session panelist for several years, Nicole has moderated our keynote discussions for the past three years, leading conversations with Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the  Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in 2019, David Cole, ACLU National Legal Director in 2018, and The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. Nicole is flawless in leading warm and engaging conversations that highlight current legal issues. She has also participated in our Racial Justice Series programs, including an examination of the events in Ferguson and how to address ongoing racism in the justice system.

Nicole is a tireless advocate for those living in the margins of society. It is an honor to award the 2019 Presidents Award for Public Service to Nicole Austin-Hillery.

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