In Memoriam: Patricia M. Wald

In Memoriam: Patricia M. Wald

Patricia M. Wald passed away at her home in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 12, 2019. She was 90.

Judge Wald had an enormously distinguished career and was known for her modesty, humanitarianism, and great wisdom.  She served for 20 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, from 1979 to 1999, including five years as Chief Judge.

A respected leader in the legal community, she was recognized for the manner in which she handled cases involving the rights of women and children in the U.S. and abroad, and for her service as an important progressive voice in American jurisprudence, shedding light on the many obstacles women faced in the mid-20th century. She was the first woman appointed to the D.C. Circuit and the first woman to serve as Chief Judge of a Circuit, as well as the first woman to serve on ALI’s Executive Committee and ALI's first woman officer, holding the offices of Second Vice President and First Vice President.  

After her retirement from the federal bench, she went on to serve as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for two years and was appointed to the Iraq Intelligence Commission in 2004 to help investigate U.S. intelligence surrounding the beginning of the Iraq War. She also was a member of the President's Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S. Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Judge Wald’s name was among those mentioned when a spot opened up on the Supreme Court during the Clinton Administration, and had also been in consideration for attorney general.

Before her elevation to the court, Judge Wald was the Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice. She also previously worked as an attorney at the Mental Health Law Project, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and the Office of Criminal Justice at the Department of Justice, and as the co-director of the Ford Foundation Drug Abuse Research Project.

She received innumerable honors and awards, including the ABA Medal and perhaps, most notably, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Judge Wald was a dedicated member of ALI for 46 years. She served on ALI’s Council for 31 years, and on the Nominating Committee, which identifies candidates for ALI’s Council and other leadership positions, for 26 years. In addition she served as an Adviser on Model Penal Code: Sentencing and Principles of the Law, Election Administration.

She leaves behind the extraordinary story of her personal and professional journey, and an enduring legacy of dedicated service to the law and a fierce commitment to equality. She is survived by her daughters Johanna, Frederica and Sarah; two sons, Douglas and Thomas; and 10 grandchildren.

Read the obituaries in The Washington Post and The New York Times.  

On January 17, 2019, a Minute in Remembrance was read at a meeting of the ALI Council by ALI Secretary Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. His remarks are available here

Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit presented the Friendly Medal to Judge Wald at ALI's 2016 Annual Meeting. Below is a video of the presentation. Read Judge Edwards' remarksRead Judge Wald’s acceptance speech.