President Obama has awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and 15 other luminaries from around the world. It's billed as the highest civilian honor the president can bestow. The 16 awardees are a diverse group, ranging from Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the late New York congressman Jack Kemp, from actor Sidney Poitier to the late gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.
In announcing the award Thursday, Obama said, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.” The awards will be presented at a ceremony August 12.
Obama noted in the announcement that O'Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Reagan in 1981 and retired in 2006.
O'Connor, 79, could not be reached for comment on the award today, but U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) issued a statement congratulating his "fellow Arizonan" Justice O'Connor. "Her lifetime of public service has certainly made her a deserving recipient of this prestigious award," Mitchell said.