University of Virginia School of Law professor A. E. Dick Howard ’61, a scholar who helped draft the state’s current constitution, has received the Virginia Bar Association’s top award.

The Gerald L. Baliles Distinguished Service Award, renamed in 2008 for the former governor and 1967 Law School graduate, recognizes and appreciates exceptional service and contributions to the bar and public at large, according to the VBA.

Award recipients were recognized Friday during the VBA’s annual meeting in Williamsburg.

Howard is the Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law and an expert in the fields of constitutional law, comparative constitutionalism and the U.S. Supreme Court, where he clerked for Justice Hugo L. Black.

Howard was executive director of the commission that wrote Virginia’s current constitution and directed the successful referendum campaign for its ratification. He has been counsel to the General Assembly and a consultant to state and federal bodies, including the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. From 1982-86, he served as counselor to the governor of Virginia, and he chaired Virginia’s Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution.

“It could not be more fitting than to honor Professor Dick Howard in this manner,” said UVA Rector Whittington W. Clement ’74. “His writing of the 1971 Virginia constitution and his commentaries about the document over the years have had a profound influence upon the legislature, state judges, lawyers and millions of Virginians.”

In his acceptance speech, Howard lauded the lawyers he worked with throughout his career, including Black and Virginia’s constitutional commissioners. He also thanked and celebrated the UVA Law students he has taught and collaborated with in 60 years of teaching.

“My students have gone on to be Supreme Court law clerks, governors, appellate court judges, ambassadors, academic stars,” Howard said. “I do not take credit for their accomplishments. But I thank them for reminding me why I love the classroom — why teaching is at the heart of my professional life.”

Howard is a VBA Life Member and serves on its Committee on Special Issues of National & State Importance.

In January 1994, Washingtonian magazine named Howard one of the most respected educators in the nation. In 2007, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Library of Virginia included Howard on their list of the “greatest Virginians” of the 20th century.

In 2013, UVA recognized Howard with its Thomas Jefferson Award — the highest honor given to faculty members at the University. The award commended Howard “for advancing, through his character, work, and personal example the ideals and objectives for which Jefferson founded the University.”

After his experience with Virginia’s Constitution, Howard was often consulted by constitutional draftsmen in other states and abroad. He has compared notes with revisers at work on new constitutions in Brazil, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Albania, Malawi and South Africa.

“Few Virginians — actually very few Americans — have played a greater role in the development of constitutions and the rule of law than Dick Howard,” said former VBA President Phillip Stone Sr. ’70. “He is not only the primary author of Virginia’s current constitution and its rejection of former inequitable provisions, but has advised numerous countries, especially those emerging from totalitarianism, on the creation of their constitutions. All the while he has been an extraordinary classroom teacher and legal scholar. Like Gov. Baliles, Dick is a consummate gentleman and, in all respects, the very model of a Virginia lawyer.”

Previous recipients include Baliles, Clement, UVA Law Dean Emerson Spies, U.S. Sen. William Spong Jr. ’47, state Sen. Hunter B. Andrews ’48 and state Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. ’60. Chief Justices Cynthia D. Kinser ’77 and Donald W. Lemons ’76 and Justices George M. Cochran ’36, Elizabeth Lacy LL.M. ’92 and John Charles Thomas ’75 of the Supreme Court of Virginia have also received the honor.

Also at the annual meeting, Jennifer L. Ligon ’10, a partner at Williams Mullen in Richmond, received the Sandra P. Thompson Award, the VBA Young Lawyers Division’s highest honor.

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.