Former President Jimmy Carter receives O’Connor Justice Prize

President Carter is awarded the O'Connor justice prize. (Daniel Perle/DD)

Former president Jimmy Carter was awarded the O’Connor Justice Prize by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel Friday night.

Carter was given the award for humanitarian service during and after his presidency in the first time the award has been given since the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law moved to downtown Phoenix.

Carter accepted the award following an introduction from former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia circuit Patricia Wald. Wald was appointed to the court originally in 1979 by then-President Carter.

“I was nominated as an appellate judge by President Carter, one of the dozens of women and minorities that he infused into a then 95 percent white male judiciary,” Wald said.

Wald also mentioned President Carter’s emphasis on human rights as one of his biggest legacies.

“Rule of law without human rights reduces to, at best, benevolent despotism,” Wald said.

Carter thanked many of the event’s attendees after accepting the award. He spoke of the humanitarian work he was able to do following the election of 1980 — what he called his “involuntary retirement.”

“I decided finally that I would devote the rest of my life to mediating disputes,” Carter said. “Since then the Carter Center has monitored over 100 troubled elections in the world.”

After giving a few short remarks following the presentation of the prize, Carter joined 2016 O’Connor Justice Prize winner and former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ana Palacio for a fireside chat. They discussed several topics, including what America’s role in the world should be as well as how to address violations of women’s rights around the world.

“The greatest unmet need on the world scene is protection against the violation of basic fairness toward women,” Carter said.

Carter pointed out that over 80 percent of slaves in the world are women, the majority of whom are sex slaves. He said the problem of women’s oppression around the world resulted from the misinterpretation of holy scriptures in numerous faiths, including Islam and Christianity, as well as the fact that men benefit from women being treated poorly.

“We should be the nation on Earth where anyone who has a conflict or a potential military conflict can look to us and say ‘Why don’t we go to Washington because the United States of America is a champion of peace,’” Carter said.

One of the final speakers of the night was former United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who lauded both President Carter and former Justice O’Connor for their years of service and brought the room to its feet for a toast to the two of them.

The final speaker was the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Dean Douglas J. Sylvester, who reiterated the common theme of the night.

“For reasons I won’t get into it feels like rule of law might be more important today than it ever has been,” Sylvester said.

Contact the reporter at