By ANNE L. MERCER
The Friends of the Law Library of Congress presented the 2003 Wickersham Award for "exceptional public service and dedication to the legal profession" to Judge Patricia M. Wald on March 18.
In the Great Hall of the Library's historic Jefferson Building, Wald was recognized for a distinguished legal career that has made her one of the leading figures in the legal profession in the United States, as well as a champion of legal reform across the globe.
Law Librarian of Congress Rubens Medina welcomed the attendees, remarking that, "At this particular time, I think it is more important than ever to identify our champions and proclaim them to the world as symbols of our professional commitment to law as an instrument of justice. For law and justice are still the best hope for a peaceful world."
Wald most recently (1999-2001) served as a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, Netherlands, where she rendered significant decisions in the field of international humanitarian law. Before joining the ICTY, she served for 20 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, including five years as the chief judge. She currently serves as the chair of the Open Society Institute's Criminal Justice Initiative.
Three personal and professional friends of Wald's offered tributes. Judge David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia made the opening remarks. Tatel recalled how he and Wald had chambers next door to each other, making it easy to spend time together and trade political gossip. But mostly, he remembered how he turned to Wald for "how to" help on being a judge.
Judith C. Areen, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, spoke about how Wald had successfully handled the challenge of being a woman in the legal profession. She noted that Wald proved that a woman can raise five children and still make a real contribution to the legal profession.
David Tolbert, executive director of the American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI), came to know Wald through her work with ICTY Tolbert recalled that Wald had worked hard under difficult conditions on many CEELI projects and always received the highest praise–that no one ever heard an unkind word from her or about her.
Following the remarks, Abe Krash, president of the Friends of the Law Library and master of ceremonies, presented the Wickersham Award to Wald. In offering her thanks and gratitude for the warm remarks made by the speakers, Wald said, "I kept thinking, I'd like to meet that woman!" Wald reminisced about spending time in the Law Library of Congress, researching and writing up her first legal assignments. It was there, she said, that she became aware of the importance of the legislative history of laws; that one couldn't rely only on the "stark plain meaning of statutes."
Wald noted that while working in Sarajevo, she came to realize that libraries are cultural storehouses. If you want to erase the history and identity of a people, destroy the heartbeat of their culture, their libraries, she said. "You who are ‘Friends of the Law Library' are more than that; you are guardians of our national culture."
The Law Library of Congress is the largest and most comprehensive source of legal information in the world and a research center for foreign, international and comparative law. The Friends of the Law Library of Congress is a national nonprofit group that encourages awareness of and support for the Law Library.
The Wickersham Award is named for George Wickersham (1858-1936), who, with other noted jurists, attorneys and scholars, conceived the Friends group as a way to help build a great national law library. Wickersham was a partner in the firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, a benefactor of this year's dinner. Additional major supporters of the Friends are West Group, Lexis-Nexis, Dun & Bradstreet and BNA Inc.
Previous recipients of the Wickersham Award in recent years are Charles F.C. Ruff, counsel to the President (2000); Talbot D'Alemberte, president of Florida State University (2001); and James A. Baker III, former secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan and secretary of state under George H.W. Bush (2002).
Anne L. Mercer is executive director of the Friends of the Law Library of Congress.