Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, January 28, 2019

Rest in Peace Judge Patricia Wald

On January 12, the country lost a legal legend--Judge Patricia Wald.  I was familiar with Judge Wald from my work on the third edition of Winning on Appeal.  She offers some excellent advice in the book.  For example,

  • She admonishes brief-writers to "[v]isualize the whole before you begin.  What overriding message is the document going to convey? . . . Better still, visualize how the judge's opinion should read if it goes your way."
  • She warns brief-writers to keep it brief:  "The more paper you throw at us, the meaner we get, the more irritated and hostile we feel about verbosity, peripheral arguments and long footnotes."
  • She tells oral advocates that "probably the most important thing for an appellate lawyer is to 'know the record.'"

What I didn't know about Patricia Wald, however, is what an amazing person she was.  She was born in 1928, and her father abandoned her family when she was two.  She was raised by her mother, with the help of relatives, and spent time working at the Torrington Co. factory as a teenager.  She attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1951.  She clerked for a federal judge and briefly worked for a firm, before taking time off to raise 5 kids.  As President Obama noted in 2013, when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “When Patricia Wald’s law firm asked if she’d come back after having her first child, she said she’d like some time off to focus on her family — devoted almost 10 years to raising five children. . . .But Patricia never lost the itch to practice law. So while her husband watched the kids at home, she’d hit the library on weekends. At the age 40, she went back to the courtroom to show the 'young kids' a thing or two."

She was the first woman  to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and the first woman to serve as that court's chief judge.  In 1999, she was appointed to serve on the war crimes tribunal at the Hague dealing with the former Yugoslavia.

Judge Wald was certainly a pioneer for women in the legal profession, but in reading about her I loved this quip from President Obama at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, “Patricia says she hopes enough women will become judges that ‘it’s not worth celebrating’ anymore. But today, we celebrate her.”  

I hope that Judge Wald's life will inspire many women to pursue law so that that Judge Wald's dream can eventually be a reality.

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