By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – Seth P. Waxman is universally recognized as one of the country’s premier Supreme Court and appellate advocates. And he’s also a local boy: he grew up in a member family of The Emanuel Synagogue, where he celebrated his bar mitzvah, confirmation, graduation, and Aufruf (the tradition of calling a groom to recite the blessing over the Torah at the Sabbath service before his wedding). An active member of the Emanuel USY chapter, he served as an officer of the Connecticut Region where, at age 15, he met his future wife of 36 years, Debra Goldberg.
Waxman returns to the Emanuel on Apr. 6, when he will talk about his journey from West Hartford to Washington, D.C. The event marks the kickoff of The Emanuel’s 95th year celebration. (Waxman’s sister, Sally Henowitz, who, together with her family, is still an Emanuel member, is co-chair of the event.)
A graduate of Conard High School in West Hartford, Waxman attended Harvard College and lived in Kenya as a Rockefeller Fellow. He earned a law degree from Yale in 1978 and has practiced and taught law in Washington, D.C. ever since.
Between 1994 and 2001, Waxman served in the United States Department of Justice, for most of that time as the 41st Solicitor General of the United States. He has argued almost 70 cases in the United States Supreme Court, and many more in trial and first-level courts of appeal.
Waxman names two especially memorable cases among those brought before the Supreme Court: Roper v. Simmons (2005) was a landmark decision that held unconstitutional the execution of juvenile offenders. Boumediene v. Bush (2008) held that persons detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay were constitutionally entitled to petition U.S. courts to challenge their confinement.
Today, Waxman is a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington, D.C., where he chairs the Appellate and Supreme Court practice. He was named 2010 “Bet-the-Company Litigator of the Year” by The Best Lawyers in America and 2013 “number one” lawyer in the city by the Super Lawyers rating service. He has been accorded both “star” rating by Chambers USA and “leading lawyer” ranking in the PLC Global Counsel Life Sciences Handbook.
Waxman is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Academy of Appellate Attorneys, the American Law Institute, and the American Bar Foundation. He writes and lectures on constitutional law and history, civil rights, intellectual property, and advocacy, and has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for scholarship, public service, and advocacy.
“I think everyone’s upbringing is a powerful factor in life choices,” Waxman says. “In my own case, Judaism’s focus on justice and the obligation to help repair the world has always been a polestar. I always wanted to develop a skill that would allow me to help others, and the ability to devote a significant portion of my practice to pro bono clients and causes has been deeply rewarding and helps connect me to Jewish teaching.”
For his pro bono work Waxman received several commendations, including the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award and the American Jewish Committee’s Learned Hand Award. He earned the Anti-Defamation League’s Benjamin Cardozo Certificate of Merit for cases he handled advocating respect for the religious practices of Jewish servicemen – in particular, the right to wear a kippah and observe kashrut – and for his representation of Jewish demonstrators at the Soviet Embassy. For extraordinary service to law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation installed him as a permanent honorary Special Agent.
Waxman and Goldberg are active members of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington and are charter members of the D.C. Jewish Community Center, where Goldberg serves on the board. Their daughter, Sarah, teaches at Adas Israel and is a member of Moishe House D.C.
Waxman says that he has returned many times to the Emanuel since moving to Washington, but this is the first time he has received a speaking invitation. “I’ve always enjoyed speaking to Jewish audiences, especially in Hartford,” he says. “Being invited to speak at the synagogue in which I was raised is a very special treat.”
The Emanuel Synagogue’s 95th year celebration kickoff: “Tikkun Olam: What the Emanuel Taught Me” with Seth Waxman will be held on April 6, 5:30 p.m., at the synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford. For information call (860) 236-1275 / or email email@example.com.
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