President Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to Judge Patricia Wald '48
President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Patricia McGowan Wald '48 in a White House ceremony today.
Wald, who was referred to in a White House statement as “one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation,” graduated as one of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class and became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991.
“It means a great deal to know that all the efforts of one's life – the ups and downs, the successes and failures – have contributed in some recognizable way to the advance of our society toward its most precious aspirations, freedom and responsibility for each other,” Wald said of receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor.
One of 16 medal recipients this year, Wald was honored alongside former President Bill Clinton, country music legend Loretta Lynn, broadcast giant Oprah Winfrey, baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, feminist publisher Gloria Steinem, former college basketball coach Dean Smith and former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Former Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and astronaut Sally Ride were honored posthumously.
As she received the medal from the President, a military aid read the following: “Patricia McGowan Wald made history as the first woman appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Rising to Chief Judge of the Court, she always strove to better understand the law and fairly apply it. After leaving federal service, Judge Wald helped institute standards for justice and the rule of law at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Hailed as a model judge, she laid a foundation for countless women within the legal profession and helped unveil the humanity within the law.”
President Obama addressed the recipients before presenting them with their medals. “These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us,” he said.
A native of Torrington, Conn., Wald graduated from Connecticut College having earned the College’s highest academic honor, recognition as a Winthrop Scholar. She attended Yale Law School after graduation and became the first woman associate hired by the storied law firm Arnold, Fortas & Porter in Washington, D.C. In 1972 she received the College Medal, Connecticut College’s highest honor.
“Conn College was instrumental in pointing me to law school and providing strong encouragement to set out on an uncertain path at that time for women,” Wald said.
After retiring from the U.S. courts, Wald has held several high-profile positions. She served on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for two years, was appointed to the Iraq Intelligence Commission in 2004 to help investigate U.S. intelligence surrounding the beginning of the Iraq War and, most recently, was named to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board by President Obama in 2012.
In 2008, Legal Times honored her as a “Visionary” for breaking through barriers during her distinguished law career. In 2011, she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
November 20, 2013