Legal Aid was saddened to learn of the passing of Judge Patricia Wald on January 12, 2019. Judge Wald became the first woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and became the D.C. Circuit’s first female Chief Judge in 1986.
Early in her legal services and public-interest career, Judge Wald worked with many organizations, including the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in DC. In her work, Judge Wald demonstrated a commitment to justice for the most vulnerable populations. She won cases that expanded significant protections for low-income women and children, and many other disenfranchised groups. On the bench, she continued to use the law as an instrument of social change in the face of opposition. As she remarked on writing a dissent:
“You always have a sad feeling when you write a dissent because it means you lost... But you write them because you have faith that maybe they will play out at some time in the future, and because of the integrity you owe to yourself. There are times when you need to stand up and say, ‘I can’t be associated with this point of view.’”
President Obama awarded Judge Wald with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, calling her “one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation.”
Judge Wald presenting the Servant of Justice Award to Marian Wright Edelman in 2016
Judge Wald had numerous connections to Legal Aid: in addition to being a financial supporter of our work, she honored us by presenting the 2016 Servant of Justice Award to her long-time friend, Marian Wright Edelman. Judge Wald was a legend of the law who will be sorely missed in legal services circles and beyond.