U.S. Judge Carlton W. Reeves, a 1989 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, has been named this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.

Sponsored jointly by UVA and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals are awarded each year to recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia — excelled and held in high regard. The law medal, and its counterparts in architecture, citizen leadership and global innovation, are UVA’s highest external honors.

“Judge Reeves is an exemplary public servant whose decisions have reached well beyond his seat in Mississippi,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “His opinions elucidate the law through powerful reasoning and a deep humanity that gets to the heart of the issues at stake.”

The judge will give a talk to mark the occasion on April 11 at 2:15 p.m. in Caplin Auditorium.

Reeves has served for almost a decade on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, where he has ruled in a number of important cases, including those involving equality and civil rights.

He was nominated to the post in 2010 by President Barack Obama, becoming the second African-American appointed to a federal judgeship in the state.

“I knew being a judge would be the best thing to create a greater good in Mississippi,” Reeves told UVA Lawyer in 2017. “It’s not about creating new rights. It’s about breathing new life into the Constitution that we have sworn to uphold.”

In Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, a same-sex marriage dispute, and Barber v. Bryant, Reeves ruled in favor of LGBT rights.

In his hate-crime sentencing in United States v. Butler, a case that involved the racially motivated killing of an African-American man, Reeves gave moving remarks on the related history of lynching in the state.

“How could hate, fear, or whatever it was transform genteel, God-fearing, God-loving Mississippians into mindless murderers and sadistic torturers?” he asked, before reciting a historical list of Mississippi’s victims of racially motivated violence.

His list culminated with James Craig Anderson, the victim in the Butler case, who in 2011 was cornered in a parking lot, beaten and run over by his attackers in a truck as they shouted “white power.”

Prior to becoming a judge, Reeves co-founded the Mississippi law firm Pigott Reeves Johnson & Minor. (One of the firm’s namesakes was UVA Law alum Brad Pigott ’80.) He also served as chief of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Mississippi, and worked at the law firm Phelps Dunbar. Reeves clerked for Justice Reuben V. Anderson, the first African-American judge on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Reeves is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Magnolia Bar’s highest honor, the R. Jess Brown Award, and its Alfred H. Rhodes, Jr. Service Award, the Mississippi Bar’s Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award and the Hinds County Bar’s Pro Bono Award as well as the Brown, Young & Hall Award of the Jackson Branch NAACP. A Fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation, Reeves was named the Mississippi Association of Justice’s Distinguished Jurist of the Year (2014-15), and he was honored as Mississippi State University Department of Political Science & Public Administration and the Pre-Law Society Distinguished Jurist Award (2016).

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the historically black Jackson State University.

Past Jefferson Medal in Law Recipients

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.