Archer honored for 'unparalleled' accomplishments


Dennis Archer, the former mayor of Detroit and justice of the Michigan Supreme Court as well as past president of the ABA, has been chosen to receive the highest award of the American Bar Association.

In announcing the honor, ABA President Paulette Brown cited Archer’s many contributions to the legal profession. 

“As a practicing lawyer, state Supreme Court justice, mayor of Detroit, chairman of his firm and first African-American president of the ABA, Dennis Archer’s professional accomplishments are unparalleled, and he is held in the highest regard by his peers,” she said. “On a personal level, Dennis has been a wise and encouraging mentor and role model to me and countless other diverse lawyers. “

Brown said Archer “truly exemplifies the ‘conspicuous service to the cause of American jurisprudence’ the ABA Medal recognizes.”

Archer graduated from Western Michigan University in 1965, then earned his J.D. from the Detroit College of Law in 1970. 

Archer said he was “indeed, humbled and deeply honored” by the honor.

“I have been serving in our House of Delegates since 1979,” he said. “And each year whenever the ABA Medal has been awarded, I have felt that those who were awarded the medal were outstanding legal giants and absolutely worthy of receiving the highest award that the ABA can bestow upon a lawyer or judge.”

Archer said he often wondered “whether or not I might be found worthy even for consideration when you think about award winners of the magnitude of a Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Hillary Clinton.”

“So when Paulette Brown let me know I would receive the award, I did all that I could to contain my emotions because it is such a unique and high honor,” he said.

In addition to practicing law at Detroit firms, Archer became known for his ability to relate to both jurors and the bench, including now as chairman emeritus at Dickinson Wright PLLC. 

Archer was on the faculty of Detroit College of Law from 1972-78 and at Wayne State University Law School from 1984-85. He served as a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1986-90 and Michigan Lawyers Weekly named him “most respected judge in Michigan” in his final year.

In addition to serving on numerous charitable and civic boards in Detroit, including the Detroit Arts Commission, YMCA of Detroit and United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Archer has been active in several bar associations, eventually serving as president of the State Bar of Michigan, Wolverine Bar Association and National Bar Association.

In 2003, he broke the color barrier as the first African-American president of the ABA in 2003. 

Archer has been chairman of The InfiLaw System, a consortium of independent, ABA-approved for-profit law schools, since 2004.

During his career, he has received 17 honorary doctor of law degrees.

Archer served as mayor of Detroit from 1993 to 2001. He also served as president of the National League of Cities.

Archer will receive the award during a ceremony Aug. 6 as part of the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco.

The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence and is given only in years when the ABA board of governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession.

Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor. 

Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; human rights activist Father Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; and prominent attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson.