By Camilo Barrera

Judge Patricia Wald speaking to the Class of 2016

Judge Patricia Wald speaking to the Class of 2016

Very few people can turn major obstacles into opportunities. Those who do take on these challenges are those who make progress in our society possible. One such individual is Judge Patricia M. Wald, the guest speaker for our October 15th High Table lunch.

From the very beginning of her career, Judge Wald has stood out from the majority. She was the first of only eleven women students in her law school class, and after a career devoted to public service law, she became the first woman to be appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She ultimately became the Chief Justice of the same court.

Following her retirement for U.S courts, she was appointed to be Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where she was one of the people who had the difficult task of bringing justice after one of the worst human rights crisis of the twentieth century. Later, she was part of the Iraq Intelligence Commission, which had the difficult task of investigating the mistakes made by the intelligence organs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

After a lifetime of work and commitment on the improvement of people’s conditions, one would think that it is time from a well-deserved retirement, but this is not the case for a tireless human rights advocate. Since August 2012, judge Wald has served as Board Member for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). And although in name this is a part time position, Judge Wald’s commitment goes beyond full time.

During a very enjoyable lunch, which featured the presence of the 2016 LLM class along with members of the faculty, Judge Wald shared a very insightful review of her experience as a board member of PCLOB.

The PCLOB is a bi-partisan commission that has two main mandates: (1) to review and analyze actions the executive branch takes to protect the nation from terrorism, ensuring that the need for such actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties, and (2) to ensure that liberty concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies related to efforts to protect the nation from terrorism.

It is a relative new board that was established after the release of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, but for a variety of reasons it could not start operating until the year 2013.

One of the earliest challenges that the PCLOB had to face was to gain public credibility and to assure independency in reports. This because, even if it was conceived as an independent agency from its beginning, it was initially received with skepticism because of its character of auto-review mechanism from the executive branch. Nevertheless, the PCLOB has managed to work in a collaborative way with civil society organizations in order to identify the most pressing issues of privacy and civil rights. This along with particular junctures such as the Wikileaks scandal has established PCLOB work agenda.

PCLOB has issued two reports on very complex subjects: the telephone records program conducted under section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, and the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the surveillance program operated pursuant to section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These two oversight reports have managed to provide several recommendations on how these to legal provisions should be directed.

Judge Wald has been able to overcome a series of obstacles in her career, such as a world lacking of equal opportunities for women, which has let her play a crucial role in opening doors for many people, and she also remains a great contributor to the preservation of rights and liberties in the United States. Moreover, she continues to be an inspiration for new generations of people that aspire to make a positive impact on the world, no matter how complex today’s challenges.

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