Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to Receive New York State Bar Association’s Highest Honor

By Rebecca Melnitsky

January 4, 2024

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to Receive New York State Bar Association’s Highest Honor


By Rebecca Melnitsky

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will receive the New York State Bar Association’s Gold Medal Award, its highest honor, at the association’s black-tie Presidential Gala Jan. 18 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

“Jeh has been a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Richard Lewis, president of the New York State Bar Association. “After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action, colleges, law schools, law firms and the courts were left scrambling. But under Jeh’s leadership, the Task Force on Advancing Diversity produced a detailed report in record time, providing much-needed guidance to make sure that legal diversity programs were not dismantled.”

Johnson served as a co-chair of the association’s Task Force on Advancing Diversity, which provided a path forward for diversity, equity and inclusion programs in universities, graduate schools, businesses, and courts only a few short months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina were unconstitutional.

In 2020, then-Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed Johnson as an independent monitor to assess equal justice in New York State’s court system. Within four months, he issued a 100-page report recommending significant changes to promote equality. In the three years since, many of these recommendations have been adopted.

A graduate of Morehouse College (cum laude) and Columbia University Law School, Johnson served as secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017. Before that, he was general counsel of the Department of Defense (2009-2012), general counsel of the Department of the Air Force (1998-2001) and an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York (1989-1991).

He has been affiliated with Paul, Weiss since 1984 and was elected as its first African American partner in 1993. He is the co-chair of the firm’s Cybersecurity & Data Protection practice, and advises high-tech companies, private equity firms and government contractors on the legal aspects of cybersecurity, national security, data privacy, government relations, crisis management, high-stakes litigation and regulatory matters.

Johnson also serves as a trustee of Columbia University and is a member of the board of directors for Lockheed Martin, U.S. Steel and MetLife.

Johnson joins a distinguished group of legal icons who have been honored with the Gold Medal Award, including Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Robert H. Jackson, William J. Brennan, Jr., Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Potter Stewart, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill.

The Presidential Gala is one of the highlights of NYSBA’s 147th Annual Meeting, which takes place Jan. 16 to 20 at the New York Hilton Midtown. This year’s event promises to be a dynamic and informative, featuring a wide range of sessions and activities tailored to the diverse interests and needs of lawyers practicing in New York. The association’s premier event, the Presidential Summit, will focus on “AI and the Legal Landscape: Navigating the Ethical, Regulatory and Practical Challenges.”

For more information on NYSBA’s Annual Meeting, click here.

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