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Distinguished UW Honors Alumnus Noah Purcell uses his philosophy education to defend civil liberties

Apr 21, 2017

In recognition of his consistent defense of liberty and proven public impact, the UW Honors Program is delighted to announce Noah Purcell ('02 philosophy with Honors, economics) as our 2017 Distinguished Honors Alumnus at the University of Washington.

As Washington state solicitor general, Purcell recently argued Washington's challenge to the controversial Trump administration travel and immigration ban, winning both in District Court and the 9th Circuit, and earning a temporary restraining order of the ban. He did this with the backing of several major tech companies based in Washington state, collaborating effectively with the private sector to protect constitutional rights, specifically the right to religious freedom. The White House has since issued a revised ban that also has been halted as discriminatory against Muslims — a finding the U.S. Department of Justice is attempting to appeal.

Purcell's passionate defense of liberties is hardly new, expressed not only through the practice of law, but the practice of living. Halting the unconstitutional travel ban is just one example of Purcell's commitment to public impact, which includes (among other highlights) his work as a student leader fighting for affordable tuition at UW, as a law clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and at the Department of Homeland Security in challenging Arizona's immigration laws.

Before he became a professional defender of constitutional liberties, Purcell was a thriving double major in economics and philosophy (with Honors), and Mary Gates Scholar deeply engaged in the UW community.

Professor of Philosophy and Hanauer Honors Professor Bill Talbott remembers Purcell and his wife Jasmin Weaver (’02, philosophy with Honors) as campus leaders who were inseparable.

"They were both members of the national champion UW Ethics Bowl Team," says Talbott. "They were co-founders of Affordable Tuition Now!, a group that lobbied Olympia for lower college tuition. And they were both students in my social philosophy class, where students are encouraged to think about how to make philosophical arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court for further extensions of individual liberty rights. Noah is effectively putting this theory into practice, and before long he may be doing it before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a great role model and inspiration for students in the UW Honors Program."

Purcell and his wife, Jasmin, continue to show up for their community in a number of ways, even in the midst of career shaping events. 

"During the battle in the courts [Noah] was a judge in the Washington State High School Ethics Bowl put on by the Center for Philosophy for Children from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.," says Kate Goldyn, outreach coordinator for the Center. She continues: "We would have completely understood if he had told us he couldn't make it. Between sessions he was constantly emailing and texting about the case but still took time to discuss it with everyone there from high school students to Washington state supreme court justices."

Purcell with Chief Sealth High School ethics bowl team and WA Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez (lower right). UW Center for Philosophy for Children, 2017.

Distinguished Honors Alumni Awards are determined by a selection committee comprised of active Honors students from a variety of majors at UW, along with faculty and program staff. Recipients are selected in light of their public impact, collaborative practices, and long-term commitment to improving our world. Choosing from among the more than 9,000 UW alumni who have graduated with Honors since 1966, each year we confer this award on one individual who exemplifies the values of our program.

Purcell joins last year's Distinguished Honors Alumna, former WA State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge, as another strong model of dedication to collaborative engagement of complex issues and demonstrated public impact. He will formally receive his award from our rising senior "future impact" scholarship winner at this year’s Honors Program’s Celebration of Distinction on June 9.

We are grateful to have Noah Purcell in our midst, and Noah makes it clear why he stays connected: "I loved my time at the University of Washington where I learned so much that still shapes me to this day. One of the wonderful things about the UW is that you can get a world-class education in a setting where you are also exposed to people from every walk of life, viewpoint, and background. I feel very lucky to be a Husky!"