Patricia Wald

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Patricia McGowan Wald
Patricia wald 210962.jpg
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
November 8, 1986 – January 19, 1991
Preceded bySpottswood William Robinson III
Succeeded byAbner Mikva
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
July 26, 1979 – November 16, 1999
Appointed byJimmy Carter
Preceded bySeat established by 92 Stat. 1629
Succeeded byThomas B. Griffith
Personal details
Born (1928-09-12) September 12, 1928 (age 90)
Torrington, Connecticut
Political partyDemocratic
EducationConnecticut College (B.A.)
Yale Law School (LL.B.)

Patricia McGowan Wald (born September 16, 1928) is an American judge. Wald served as the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) and as a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She was the first woman to be appointed to the D.C. Circuit and the first to serve as Chief Judge of that court. She currently serves as a member of the American Bar Association's International Criminal Court (ABA-ICC) Project and on the Council of the American Law Institute.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wald was born in Torrington, Connecticut, to Joseph F. McGowan and Margaret O’Keefe on September 16, 1928, as their only child. Her father left when she was two years old, resulting in Wald being raised by her mother [2][3]. She also had the company and support of extended relatives, most of whom were factory workers in Torrington and active union members. Wald had a Roman Catholic upbringing.[4] Wald worked in the brass mills as a teenager during the summers. Due to her involvement in the labor movement and union work, she determined to go to law school to help protect underprivileged, working class people.[3]


Wald attended Torrington's St. Francis School and graduated in 1940. She then went on to graduate from Torrington High School in 1944 as the class valedictorian [4]. She graduated first in her class and Phi Beta Kappa at the Connecticut College for Women, now Connecticut College, in 1948.[2] She was able to attend Connecticut College for Women due to a scholarship she received from an elderly affluent woman from her hometown.[5] She then received a national fellowship from the Pepsi-Cola Company that allowed her to go on and earn her law degree from Yale Law School in 1951, graduating with only 11 other women that year out of a class of 200.[2][5] Along with the national fellowship, Wald also paid for law school by working as a waitress and taking research jobs with professors.[5] While at Yale, she was a student editor on the Yale Law Journal, one of two women in her class so honored.[6] Following her graduation, she clerked for Judge Jerome Frank of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a year. During that year, Frank ruled on the appeal of the espionage convictions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. She briefly entered private practice at the influential law firm Arnold, Fortas & Porter for a year before leaving in order to raise her five children.[7]

Professional career[edit]

It would be six years before she would take on part-time consulting and researching positions. She was a research and editorial assistant for Frederick M. Rowe, Esq. for 3 years from 1959 to 1962. She took a year off and then in 1963 spent a year as a member of the National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice. Wald then worked as a consultant for the National Conference on Law & Poverty in its Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1964, she co-authored the book Bail in the United States, which helped reform the nation's bail system.[8] She then was appointed to the President’s Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia from 1965 to 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. She continued her consulting work for the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement & Administration of Criminal Justice for a year.[9]

Wald then joined the United States Department of Justice in 1967 and spent a year as an attorney in the Office of Criminal Justice. From 1968 to 1970, she was an attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services in Washington, D.C.. During her tenure at Neighborhood Legal Services Program she was also a consultant for both the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorder and the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. She also co-directed the Ford Foundation's Drug Abuse Research Project during 1970. She then became an attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy from 1971 to 1972 and from there switched to work as an attorney at the Mental Health Law Project for 5 years. During that time, she was also the Director of the Office of Policy and Issues in the vice presidential campaign of Sargent Shriver.[9] Wald then went back to the Department of Justice from 1977 to 1979. A Democrat, she served as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs during much of the Carter administration before being nominated by Carter to the DC Circuit.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Wald was nominated by President Jimmy Carter on April 30, 1979, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to a new seat created by 92 Stat. 1629.[10] The Carter administration created a set of guidelines to be used by the United States Circuit Judge Nominating Commission that was geared to be friendlier towards women in an effort to increase the number of female federal judges.[10] She was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 24, 1979, and received her commission on July 26, 1979. She served as Chief Judge from 1986 to 1991. She was the first woman to be appointed to the District of Columbia Circuit and was also the first woman to serve as its chief judge.[5] Her service was terminated on November 16, 1999, due to retirement.

In 1994, Wald became involved with American Bar Association Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA CEELI), where she attempted to aid new Eastern European democracies rebuild their legal systems after the fall of the Soviet Union[3]. This was in addition to her duties as a federal judge.

Post judicial service[edit]

After retiring from the federal judiciary, Wald was the United States's representative to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from 1999 to 2002. She presided over numerous cases of people accused of genocide. Some of the accused included those involved in the Srebrenica massacre.[5] On 6 February 2004, Wald was appointed by President Bush to the President’s Commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S. Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, an independent panel tasked with investigating U.S. intelligence surrounding the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The commission was co-chaired by Laurence Silberman, a fellow judge that worked with Wald on the bench of the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Silberman had a great deal of respect for Wald despite their ideological differences and because of this respect Silberman did not hesitate to recommend to President Bush her appointment to the bi-partisan commission.[5] Wald agreed to serve on the Constitution Project's Guantanamo Task Force in December 2010.[11][12][13] The goal of this task force was to create an independent and bipartisan panel with the intention of looking at the federal government's police and actions regarding the capture, detention, and treatment of suspected terrorists during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

In August 2012, Wald was confirmed by the Senate as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board after being nominated by President Barack Obama.[14] On December 12, 2013, the Senate voted 57-41 to invoke cloture on her nomination to serve another six year-term on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, thus cutting off a filibuster that had been led by Republican senators. Later that same day, senators again voted 57-41 to confirm Wald to that six-year term, which expires on January 29, 2019.[15] However, Wald left the Board in January 2017.[16]

She currently chairs the board of directors of the Open Society Justice Initiative and is a member of the board of directors for Mental Disability Rights International. She also continues to be on the board of the American Bar Association's International Criminal Court (ABA-ICC) Project. Wald is a member of the global council of the California International Law Center at the University of California, Davis School of Law. She is also a member of the American Law Institute and the American Philosophical Society.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Patricia Wald was married to Robert Lewis Wald, who was also a Yale Law School graduate. He died on September 7, 2010[17]. They married in 1951, when Patricia was 23. They met in Europe as they were both traveling the region. Together they had three daughters and two sons within the span of seven years. The first child, Sarah, who was born in 1953. Their next child, Doug, was born in 1956. Johanna was born next, who was then followed by Frederica, and finally Thomas.[5] Wald has 10 grandchildren.[4]

Honors and awards[edit]

Wald has more than 20 honorary degrees and in 2002 was honored for her lifelong commitment to Human Right by the International Human Rights Law Group. She also is the recipient of the Margaret Brent Award of the National Association of Women Judges for achieving professional excellence in her field and influencing other women to pursue legal careers.[8][18] Wald received the American Lawyer Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and then four years later in 2008, she was awarded the American Bar Association Medal, the highest honor awarded by the ABA. She also was recognized by the Constitution Project as the 2011 Constitutional Champion.[8] On November 20, 2013, Wald was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.[19]


  1. ^ American Law Institute - List of Officers and Council Archived September 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c Luna, Christopher (2000). "Wald, Patricia M.". Current Biography. 61: 81–86.
  3. ^ a b c Askin, Kelly (2011). "Tribute to Patricia Wald". International Criminal Law Review. 11: 375–381.
  4. ^ a b c Wire Reports (November 20, 2013). "Torrington native Patricia Wald receives Presidential Medal of Freedom". The Middletown Press. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Winston, Judith (June 19, 2007). "Patricia McGowan Wald Oral History Interview". C-SPAN. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  6. ^ Shaw, Gisela (2014). Gender and Judging. A&C Black. ISBN 1782251111.
  7. ^ Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (2011). "Remarks in Honour of Patricia M. Wald". International Criminal Law Review. 11: 371–373.
  8. ^ a b c "Patricia M. Wald". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. 2018. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  9. ^ a b "Wald, Patricia McGowan | Federal Judicial Center". Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  10. ^ a b Slotnick, Elliot E. (1982). "Lowering the Bench or Raising it Higher?: Affirmative Action and Judicial Selection During the Carter Administration". Yale Law & Policy Review. 1.
  11. ^ "Task Force on Detainee Treatment Launched". Constitution Project. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-18.
  12. ^ "Think tank plans study of how US treats detainees". Wall Street Journal. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. Former FBI Director William Sessions, former Arkansas U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a retired Army general and a retired appeals court judge in Washington are among 11 people selected for a task force that will meet for the first time in early January, said Virginia Sloan, a lawyer and president of The Constitution Project.
  13. ^ "Task Force members". The Constitution Project. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-18.
  14. ^ Michael Daniel, Danny Weitzner and Quentin Palfrey (2012-08-03). "Senate Confirms Four Nominees to Privacy & Civil Liberties Board | The White House". Retrieved 2012-11-05.
  15. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress - 1st Session".
  16. ^ a b "Patricia M. Wald". The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. 2018. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  17. ^ "Robert L. Wald's Obituary in the Washington Post". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  18. ^ "Hon. Patricia Wald". ABA-ICC Project. 2018.
  19. ^ "Remarks by the President at Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony". November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2013.


See also[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Michael Uhlmann
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs
Succeeded by
Robert A. McConnell
Preceded by
Seat established by 92 Stat. 1629
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Thomas B. Griffith
Preceded by
Spottswood William Robinson III
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Abner Mikva