Patricia M. Wald was a pioneer for women in law, entering the legal profession at a time when women were a rare presence. She eventually became the first woman to serve on — and preside over — the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely regarded as the second most influential court in the country.
Much of Judge Wald’s early career focused on advocating for children, the poor, and the disenfranchised. From 1968 to 1970, she was an attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services in Washington, D.C.. 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 five years.
After her retirement from the federal judiciary, Wald wrote seminal rulings while serving in The Hague on the international court for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.