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Wabash College to honor 7th Circuit chief judge

April 24, 2017

Chief Judge Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will be honored Monday by Wabash College as the 2017 recipient of the David W. Peck Senior Medal for Eminence in the Law. She is the second woman to receive the award since it was first given in 1974.

She will be on campus Monday to deliver a lecture – “Public Service and Private Initiative: An American Tradition” – at 5 p.m. Following her remarks, she will receive the Senior Peck Medal at 44th annual Peck Dinner.

“Chief Judge Diane Wood has been a true trailblazer at every juncture of her career, and she is one of the most respected judges in the country,” said Wabash President Gregory Hess. “She is a brilliant scholar who listens carefully to all sides before forming her opinions. She is a model of critical thinking and civil discourse, and I am pleased that our students will have the opportunity to learn from her.”

Wood has established herself as a judicial heavyweight in a career where she has broken multiple gender barriers. As a liberal judge on the conservative-learning 7th Circuit, she was described by colleague Judge Richard Posner to the New York Times as “very tactful in dealing with people – not giving up her views but trying to look for common ground.”

Most recently, Wood wrote the majority opinion in Hively v. Ivy Tech, which found Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also, she dissented when the 7th Circuit denied rehearing en banc the arguments in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which upheld Indiana’s voter identification law.

Wood was the second woman to join the 7th Circuit and, in 2013, she became the first female chief judge of the Chicago appellate court. She was also one of the first women to clerk for the Supreme Court of the United States and was the third woman hired as a law professor by the University of Chicago Law School, for a while being the only female on the faculty.

“I’m of a generation where I was often the only woman in the room or the first to do this or that, and I’m glad that’s not the case anymore,” Wood told the Indiana Lawyer in 2013.

The Peck Medal was established to honor Wabash alumnus David W. Peck who practiced law for many years at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York and served as presiding justice of the courts in Manhattan and the Bronx.  

Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana was the first woman to receive the Peck honor. She received the medal in 1989.

A graduate of the University of Texas, where she received her bachelor and law degrees, Wood began her legal career clerking for Judge Irving L. Goldberg of the 5th Circuit and then clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun from 1976 to 1977.

Wood worked briefly at the U.S. State Department, focusing on international investment, antitrust, and transfer of technology issues, before going into private practice. In 1980, she taught at the Georgetown University Law Center before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago Law School in 1981. She served as associate dean there from 1989 to 1992.

She was nominated for the 7th Circuit by President Bill Clinton and confirmed as a judge for the 7th Circuit in 1995.

“Chief Judge Wood epitomizes the reason lawyers value the privilege of arguing their cases in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit,” said Josh Minkler, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana and a 1985 graduate of Wabash. “She critically examines your case in tough by fair manner requiring a well written appellate brief and thorough preparation for oral argument. Judge Wood makes you a better lawyer.”  

Twice, Wood has been shortlisted to fill the vacancies on the Supreme Court. In 2009, she interviewed with President Barack Obama for the seat of retiring Justice David Souter. Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, who became the third woman and first Latina to join the Supreme Court.
 

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