Patricia M. Wald, Former U.S. and International War Crimes Judge Receives American Bar Association Medal for 2008
Patricia M. Wald, whose legal service has ranged from neighborhood legal aid programs in the United States to representing the U.S. on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was awarded the American Bar Association Medal during the House of Delegates meeting in New York.
“Her contributions to our profession, to this association, to the rule of law have improved the lives of countless people all around the world,” said William H. Neukom, ABA president, in presenting the award Monday to Wald, who was selected for the honor by the ABA Board of Governors.
Wald, who had high praise for the ABA in her speech to the policy-making body during the association’s Annual meeting, said, “I’m proud beyond words to have been a foot soldier along with all of you in upholding the great ideals of liberty and equality and being a guardian of our third branch of government.”
The ABA has presented its medal, the highest honor the association bestows, periodically since 1929, only in years in which a single individual has “rendered exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American jurisprudence.” Wald is the third woman to receive the medal, which previously has been conferred on justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, human rights leaders, legal scholars, members of Congress and others at the pinnacle of the legal profession. Shirley M. Hufstedler of Los Angeles and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were the other women lawyers to receive the medal.
Wald was the first woman judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she served 20 years, including five years as chief judge, before resigning in 1999 to accept the appointment to a two-year term to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. She sat in the trial that convicted Gen. Krstic of the slaughter of more than 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, the tribunal’s first major genocide case, and on the appellate panel that was the first to reverse a conviction for insufficient evidence, upholding fair legal standards for justice. The first person in her family to attend college, she graduated from Yale Law School in 1951, and clerked for Judge Jerome Frank of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before practicing law with a firm and taking an 11-year hiatus from law to raise her five children. She returned to work at the U.S. Department of Justice, the Mental Health Law Project (now the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law), and the Center for Law and Social Policy, attacking legal problems of children, the poor, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, criminal defendants and women. She served as assistant U.S. attorney general for legislative affairs before her 1979 appointment to the federal court.
Among Wald’s many other public service endeavors, she has served on the governing board of the ABA Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, now a component of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative that supports development of legal systems, judicial training, independent legal professions and other justice initiatives in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to leading the organization, she was a volunteer in its programs, making 15 trips to places like Sarajevo, Serbia and Slovakia to monitor elections, advise on establishing court systems and assist in drafting new constitutions.
“To get beyond the high abstractions of the rule of law has been immensely interesting,” she told The New York Times in 1999. “Sitting around a table with homemade vodka and writing a constitution bring a kind of intimacy to the constitutional process that we’ve long since left behind us here,” she said.
More recently, Wald was appointed by President Bush to the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which published its report in March 2005.
She also served on the ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, which proposed policy adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in 2006.
Among those supporting Wald’s nomination for the medal, Justice O’Connor cited Wald’s “quiet, helpful commitment to improving the world,” calling her “effective, wise and wonderful.” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said “she provides a model for those lawyers, men and women alike, who continue to believe in that ’spirit of public service’ that must characterize the law.”