Soon-to-be-retired Attorney General Eric Holder gave the Department of Justice gay marriage implementation team the department’s top award at the Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony, a Wednesday press release announced.
The Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, “the department’s highest award for employee performance,” was given to the 29 people “responsible for outstanding achievement in U.S. v. Windsor implementation.”
The 2013 Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor gutted the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law which defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” The case was brought by Edith Windsor, who argued that she shouldn’t have to pay estate taxes on the inheritance left her by her female partner because they were married. Shortly after she filed suit against the government, President Barack Obama famously instructed Holder not to defend DOMA’s constitutionality, since he had determined it to be unconstitutional all by himself. “I fully concur with the President’s determination,” Holder said at the time. Less than two years later, the law was struck down.
“Among many others, this year’s award recipients include those who have helped lead the fight to extend equal protection, and equal rights, to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters – from enforcing civil rights laws to securing a historic victory before the Supreme Court, the impact of which continues to radiate through courts and communities across the country,” Holder said at the ceremony.
The press release explained that “the task of the Windsor Implementation Team was to make real the promise of the U.S. v. Windsor decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. … Bringing to bear expertise from across the department, the Windsor team coordinated with agencies across the government to identify these laws, as well as other federal rules and policies affected by Section 3, and issue new policies and guidance to expunge the discrimination Section 3 had required. In doing so, the team ensured that committed and loving couples throughout the country, and their families, would receive equal treatment by the government regardless of their sexual orientation.”
“We gather to celebrate the passion – and the progress – that are embodied by these few women and men, setting them apart from their peers and marking them as examples to us all,” Holder said.
Other award recipients included “the team that raced to resolve thorny legal issues created by the unfortunate and unnecessary shutdown of the federal government last year – a shutdown that imposed real hardships on so many federal employees and their families,” as Holder described it, and the lawyers who “[provided] exceptional support to the National Labor Relations Board in connection with the challenged validity of President Obama’s recess appointment of three board members, and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in connection with the president’s appointment of its director.”
While 2011’s Exceptional Service award went to an FBI team that exposed 10 Russian secret agents, and 2012’s to criminal investigators “responsible for the successful prosecution of 10 New Orleans police officers convicted of killing innocent civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” last year’s award went to the legal team that defended the Affordable Care Act (“With high stakes and a staggering volume of work to be done, this team withstood intense pressure and showcased superb litigation skills in drafting the law’s defense to constitutional challenges and lawsuits”). This is the 62nd annual ceremony.