Throughout her long and distinguished career, Justice O’Connor has been a powerful champion for the rule of law, particularly the need for an independent judiciary.
After stepping down from the Supreme Court in 2006, Justice O’Connor’s advocacy for the rule of law took on a global dimension. She has traveled the world to visit new nation-states and spread her message of the rule of law principle, the systems that make it function, and social justice. She has taken part in programs to bring more women into the judicial branches of nations in the Middle East. For example, in 2003 she headed the U.S. delegation to the Arab Judicial Reform Conference hosted by Bahrain, a country that had enacted universal suffrage only the year before. Justice O’Connor is also a special advisor to the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, which has seen its reach grow to about 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Further, Justice O’Connor is passionate about promoting rule of law education in U.S. and international law schools. In her words, “We need law schools to provide opportunities for their students to get engaged immediately in worthy activities that further our goals as individuals who care about the rule of law.”
In 2014, a group spearheaded by the Honorable Ruth McGregor, who clerked for Justice O’Connor during her first term, developed the O’Connor Justice Prize to honor the justice’s legacy of tireless work on behalf of the rule of law.
The O’Connor Justice Prize recognizes exemplary leadership in rule of law initiatives and honors Sandra Day O’Connor’s legacy.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was the first woman on the country’s highest court, serving from 1981 until her retirement in 2006. Justice O’Connor has devoted her life to public service and has been actively involved in promoting the rule of law and judicial independence around the world. She is the founder and chairperson of iCivics, Inc., an organization that promotes civics education and encourages students to become active citizens through a wide array of free, interactive games and activities. Justice O’Connor is also Honorary Chair of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Advisory Committee, part of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which is dedicated to advancing the selection of impartial, qualified judges.
Numerous awards from a variety of organizations across the country bear the Justice’s name. However, the O’Connor Justice Prize is the only one that recognizes her overarching efforts on behalf of judicial independence, global rule of law, and international human rights.
When defining the essence of the O’Connor Justice Prize, an advisory board composed of judges, attorneys, ambassadors, and scholars worked to capture these aspects of Justice O’Connor’s work by honoring those who reflect her ideals.
Thus, the O’Connor Justice Prize not only honors Justice O’Connor’s enduring legacy, but also raises awareness of rule of law initiatives and recognizes people who have made extraordinary contributions to advancing the rule of law, justice, and human rights.
Winners of the O’Connor Justice Prize receive a $40,000 cash award in recognition of and to further their work in advancing the rule of law. The winners are honored at the O’Connor Justice Prize Dinner, a formal event held in the Phoenix-metro area.
The event draws nationally and globally known jurists, legal scholars, ambassadors, and philanthropists. Numerous judges on federal and state benches, many of whom served as clerks for Justice O’Connor, have also attended. The Honorable Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, recorded a videotaped greeting for the 2016 O’Connor Justice Prize Dinner.
Past guests include:
The Honorable David Souter, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada
Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation
Rebecca Love Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake
Ambassador Barbara Barrett, an American businesswoman and diplomat
Ambassador Clint Williamson, a U.S. diplomat and prosecutor
“The law is not the private property of lawyers, nor is justice the exclusive province of judges and juries. In the final analysis, true justice is not a matter of courts and law books, but of a commitment in each of us to liberty and mutual respect.”
President Jimmy Carter
Since its inception, the O’Connor Justice Prize, including the cash award and formal event, has been funded entirely through the generosity of members of the O’Connor Justice Prize Advisory Board.
In order to secure the viability of the prize going forward, the Board seeks patrons who share Justice O’Connor’s commitment to promoting the rule of law around the world. We hope you will consider joining us to help establish the O’Connor Justice Prize as an enduring symbol of that shared commitment
Past Prize Winners
President Jimmy Carter
39th President of the United States
Founder of The Carter Center
Jimmy Carter (James Earl Carter, Jr.) served as the thirty-ninth President of the United States. Significant foreign policy accomplishments of his administration included the Panama Canal treaties, the Camp David Accords, the treaty of peace between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and the establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. He championed human rights throughout the world. On the domestic side, the administration’s achievements included a comprehensive energy program conducted by a new Department of Energy; deregulation in energy, transportation, communications, and finance; major educational programs under a new Department of Education; and major environmental protection legislation, including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
In 1982, he founded The Carter Center. Actively guided by President Carter, the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center addresses national and international issues of public policy. Carter Center staff and associates join with President Carter in efforts to resolve conflict, promote democracy, protect human rights, and prevent disease and other afflictions. The Center has spearheaded the international effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease, which is poised to be the second human disease in history to be eradicated.
On December 10, 2002, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 to Mr. Carter “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
Minister Ana Palacio
Member, Council of State of Spain
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain
Former Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the World Bank Group
The 2016 O’Connor Justice Prize was given to Ana Palacio, member of the Council of State of Spain and former senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group. Minister Palacio was also the first woman to serve as the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Spanish Government from 2002 to 2004. Throughout her varied and impressive career, Ms. Palacio consistently earned a reputation as an ardent defender and protector of the rule of law, human rights, judicial independence, and press freedom. Minister Palacio’s passion for the rule of law and human rights was evident when as a member of the European Commission’s panel established under Article 255 of the Lisbon Treaty, she was instrumental in ensuring the independence of the European Union judiciary, vetting judicial candidates for two levels of Courts of the European Union. In the early stages of the development of the EU as something more than a commercial relationship, Minister Palacio’s influence was pivotal to the incorporation of human rights into the fabric of the EU. Additionally, with Minister Palacio’s counsel at the World Bank, human rights and freedoms were elevated in financial analyses.
Dr. Navanethem “Navi” Pillay
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
After years of working to champion the rights of anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, Ms. Pillay, of Tamil descent, was chosen in 1995 by newly elected President Nelson Mandela to serve on the High Court of South Africa, becoming the first non-white woman to hold that position. That same year, she was elected by the UN General Assembly to serve on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she worked successfully to establish mass rape as a form of genocide. In 2003, she was elected to the first-ever panel of judges of the International Criminal Court, serving until her appointment as High Commissioner in 2008.
Former UN official awarded O’Connor prize for human rights advocacy