Distinguished Professor of Law
A.B. 1968, Occidental College
J.D. 1974, University of California, Berkeley
Member of the District of Columbia Bar
Since joining the UNM law faculty in 1976, Jim Ellis has worked on behalf of people with mental disabilities in the civil and criminal justice system. He has filed briefs in 18 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in 2002 argued Atkins v. Virginia, in which the high court held that the execution of individuals with mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Ellis, who teaches Constitutional Rights, Introduction to Constitutional Law, and Rights of Children, along with Mental Health and Retardation Law and Mental Disability in Criminal Cases, has spent his career writing articles, amicus briefs and appearing before congressional committees and state legislative committees across the country arguing for the rights of people with disabilities. UNM students have frequently been invited to participate in this work, including each of the briefs to the Supreme Court.
For this work, Ellis has received numerous national awards, including the National Law Journal's "Lawyer of the Year" honor in 2002. Other honors include the Paul Hearne Award for Disability Advocacy from the American Bar Association, the Call to Action Award by the ARC of the United States, the Champion of Justice Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and recognition by the National Historic Trust on Mental Retardation as one of 36 significant individuals in the field of mental retardation in the 20th Century.
He has served as law reporter for the A.B.A. Criminal Justice Standards project and president of the American Association on Mental Retardation (now known as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.)
Ellis' interest in mental disability dates to his service at the Yale Psychiatric Institute as a conscientious objector. After law school at the University of California (Boalt Hall), he worked at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C., before joining the UNM law faculty.