President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Freedom to Patricia Wald, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Wald, who served as chief judge of the D.C. Circuit from 1986 to 1991, will be honored at a White House ceremony later this year along with 15 other medal winners, the White House said this afternoon. Wald left the D.C. Circuit in 1999 after serving 20 years on the bench.
The other winners this year include former president Bill Clinton, country music legend Loretta Lynn, broadcast giant Oprah Winfrey, college basketball coach Dean Smith and former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Former Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii will be posthumously honored.
The White House announcement called Wald "one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation." She graduated from Yale University Law School as one of only 11 women in her class. Now retired, Wald serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
Legal Times honored Wald in 2008 as a "Visionary" for breaking through barriers during her long career in the law.
In 1952, she was the first woman associate hired at Arnold, Fortas & Porter. Five children and several part-time positions followed before she became a full-time public interest litigator in 1968. When Jimmy Carter became president, Wald went to Main Justice, serving as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs under Attorney General Griffin Bell.