ArentFox Schiff’s Jon Bouker Wins 2023 Brennan Award for Access to Justice Work
April 19, 2023
The D.C. Bar has named Jon S. Bouker, a partner and government relations practice co-leader at ArentFox Schiff LLP, as the recipient of its 2023 William J. Brennan Jr. Award for his tireless advocacy for access to justice, especially for the District’s most vulnerable population. Bouker will be honored at the Bar’s annual Celebration of Leadership on June 22.
Bouker said he was “completely gobsmacked” when he received news of the award. “I am both honored and humbled to be recognized in this way because access to justice work is so important to me,” he said. “As co-chair of ArentFox Schiff’s pro bono committee, I often tell lawyers that the pro bono work we do is why most of us became lawyers in the first place — to assist those most vulnerable in our society. There is nothing more important in our profession than ensuring that our justice system is inclusive and that all litigants, regardless of their circumstances, have equitable access to justice.”
Established in 1993, the William J. Brennan Jr. Award is presented biennially (alternating with the Thurgood Marshall Award) to a D.C. Bar member who has demonstrated exceptional achievement in the pursuit of equal justice and who has made a significant, positive impact on the quality of administration of justice.
Bouker’s career, which has involved work in the private sector, federal and local government, and public interest organizations, is distinguished by years of lending his legal expertise and leadership skills to benefit the disadvantaged. He was a founding member of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, serving as its legislative counsel for 15 years, between 2005 and 2020.
“The Access to Justice Commission is a critical partner [of] the courts, legal services providers, and the private bar to identify and break through barriers that prevent equitable access to the courts and other critical legal services for those in need,” Bouker said. “I am so proud of our commission here in D.C., which is a national model for commissions around the country.”
With Bouker’s expertise and legal guidance, the commission successfully advocated for the creation and expansion of the Access to Justice Initiative, a public funding program for civil legal aid services. Bouker saw the initiative grow from having zero funding in 2007 to supporting civil legal aid programs with a $31.7 million budget from the District government in fiscal year 2023.
That funding is now under threat, with Mayor Muriel Bowser proposing an $18.67 million cut to the Access to Justice Initiative for fiscal year 2024. “The administration is faced with a number of intractable budget challenges, including shrinking tax revenues and the phaseout of billions [of dollars] in federal rescue funds, but I think it is shortsighted to cut legal services for the most vulnerable D.C. residents,” Bouker said. “Legal services providers encounter clients at their crisis points, when one eviction hearing or domestic violence protection order could mean stability or the complete upheaval of that client’s life and the life of their family.”
Through the years, hundreds of thousands of District residents have benefited from the Access to Justice Initiative, receiving direct legal support for problems such as housing instability, economic risk, intrafamily violence, difficulty accessing benefits, fraud protection, elder injustice, and more.
“Ultimately, the city will pay a greater price as District residents, lacking legal services, wind up in the homeless population, are recipients of uncompensated care or, sadly, [are] involved in the criminal justice system,” Bouker said.
Bouker has forged long-standing relationships with several justice reform organizations in the District, including the DC Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, where he served as board chair between 2014 and 2019. For his contribution to D.C. voting rights, the center honored Bouker with its Community Service Award in 2007 and with its Ed Levin Democracy Award in 2019.
Bouker has also supported the work of the Council for Court Excellence, most recently serving as cochair of its District Task Force on Jail and Justice Committee on Local Control. Currently, he is cochair of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Federal Law Enforcement Nominating Commission, which recommends candidates for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other federal law enforcement agencies.
A former chief counsel and legislative director to Norton, Bouker championed the District’s fight for autonomy and statehood and played a key role in developing, negotiating, and passing historic legislation to spur the District’s revitalization, including passage of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997.
Bouker formerly served as chair of DC Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to securing full voting representation in Congress, and is currently a member of Mayor Bowser’s legal advisory team for D.C. statehood.
Bouker has been listed by the Washington Business Journal as a top Washington lawyer from 2004 to 2007, and was recognized by Chambers USA as a leading attorney in government relations. In 2010 Bouker was awarded the Partnership Award by the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief Coalition for his work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. He also received the Center for Health and Gender Equity’s Changemaker Award in 2019.