The Georgia First Amendment Foundation held our 19th annual Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Celebration at 1 p.m. on Oct. 15. Watch the video.
In a break from tradition, we did not name a Weltner Award honoree for 2020. Instead, we applauded those whose work demonstrated the importance and power of First Amendment principles that are foundational to our democracy, particularly in this unprecedented year. During our virtual event, we recognized as 2020 First Amendment heroes:
- The Supreme Court of Georgia for vision, preparation and leadership that have allowed courts in our state to remain operational and open to the public during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
- The late state Rep. Jay Powell for ushering an expansion of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws through the General Assembly in 2012. The resulting laws improved citizens’ access to their government and established a legal framework for the virtual public meetings that have become so essential this year.
- Nineteen-year-old community organizer and activist Zoe Bambara, who leveraged our right “peaceably to assemble” by helping organize protests in late May calling for an end to police brutality and discrimination. The protests raised awareness and sparked change; two months later, Georgia’s first hate crimes law took effect.
We also previewed the foundation’s legislative agenda for the 2021 General Assembly session; celebrated the life and legacy of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a former Weltner Award honoree; and paid tribute to long-serving foundation board member Tom Budlong, who died this year.
Companion training event: Law Enforcement & the First Amendment
As a companion event to our Weltner Celebration, the foundation held an Oct. 9 training session, Law Enforcement and the First Amendment. The virtual session centered on how recordings of police activities have become catalysts for change and ways the First Amendment protects citizens’ right to record police on the job, access video from officer body cameras and more. Check out a recap and watch video of the event to get the facts from our panel of experts:
- Vic Reynolds, Director, Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- Zoe Bambara, Community Organizer & Activist
- Sarah Brewerton-Palmer, First Amendment Attorney, Caplan Cobb LLP
- Clare Norins, Director, First Amendment Clinic, UGA School of Law
- Gerry Weber, First Amendment Attorney, Gerry Weber LLC and Southern Center for Human Rights
Learn more about our 2020 Weltner celebration and how you can support the foundation’s mission to protect and expand the public’s right to know.
About the Award
In the spirit of the late Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles L. Weltner, the annual Weltner Freedom of Information Award honors a person or group whose work has significantly improved freedom of information in Georgia. Justice Weltner was an unyielding champion of government transparency. One of his final opinions for the Supreme Court of Georgia in Davis et al v. City of Macon (1992) captured his commitment to First Amendment principles:
“This is the last appeal in which I will participate as a member of the Supreme Court of Georgia… Over the past decade, as I see it, our court has breathed life into some old words that have lain dormant within our constitution for most of their century-old existence. The words are: ‘Public officers are the trustees and servants of the people and are at all times amenable to them.’(Constitution of Georgia of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. I.)
“We have established that this is no empty phrase, but an obligation that is enforceable in a court of law. Public men and women, above all others, must be of good faith. Neither facile excuse nor clever dissimulation can serve in the stead of duty — faithfully performed. Because public men and women are amenable ‘at all times’ to the people, they must conduct the public’s business out in the open.”
If you would like to nominate someone for our Weltner Award, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.