Roger L. Gregory, the first Black judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, has been named this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.

Sponsored jointly by the University of Virginia 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 Gregory has had a remarkable career as a jurist,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “In his decades on the bench, his judicial approach has always been grounded in a fundamental optimism about America—that we really can secure the blessings of liberty and justice for all.”

Gregory will speak in recognition of his award April 11 at 1:30 p.m. in the Law School’s Caplin Pavilion.

He most recently spoke at the Law School in 2023, when he drew a tie between his personal history — he was adopted as a fire-scarred baby by Virginia tobacco workers — and his expansive and inclusive vision of justice.

“If you lined up 10 little babies in a line and saved somebody, which one would you take? They decided to take the one who had rickety legs, asthma and scars from burns,” Gregory said at the time. “So when I see people come before the court without portfolio and the world has turned their back — they’re dispossessed, they’re disinherited and nobody understands them — there is room for justice for them. My parents taught me that in their faith and their understanding, and so that anchors me.”

Gregory was nominated to the then-predominantly conservative Fourth Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 2000 during a recess appointment after senators declined to give him a hearing. He was renominated by President George W. Bush before being confirmed by a vote of 93-1 in 2001, making him the only judge on any circuit to be appointed by a president of both parties. He served as chief judge and a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 2016-2023.

In 2014, Gregory joined the majority opinion in Bostic v. Schaefer, which declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the ruling led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Virginia, as well as Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.  That same year, Gregory also wrote for a unanimous court in King v. Burwell, which upheld federal tax credits to individuals who purchased health insurance policies on state and federal exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. That decision was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before joining the bench, Gregory co-founded the Richmond law firm Wilder & Gregory in 1982 with future Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, and became chair of its litigation section in 1985.

Gregory is a member of the American Law Institute and serves as trustee emeritus for the University of Richmond. By appointment of the chief justice of the United States, Gregory served on the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission established by the president and Congress to commemorate the landmark decision.

His past leadership positions include serving as chairman of the Industrial Development Authority of Richmond, president of the Friends Association for Children, president of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, rector of Virginia Commonwealth University and president of the Old Dominion Bar Association.

He is the recipient of the National Bar Association’s Gertrude E. Rush and Equal Justice Awards, the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award and the Washington Bar Association’s Charles Hamilton Houston Merit Medallion.

He earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and his bachelor’s degree from Virginia 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.

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