Dorothy Wright Nelson ’50, J.D. ’53

2012 Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award

The Honorable Dorothy Wright Nelson has dedicated the entirety of her career to the law and teaching law. Currently, she is a senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a U.S. federal court covering the nine western states, which review decisions of district courts. Nelson began her professional career as a research associate at the University of Southern California Law School where she received her Master of Laws. She joined the school’s faculty, at which point she became USC’s first woman law professor. She was an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and then professor. Nelson was named interim dean at the University of Southern California Law School in 1967 and then officially became the dean in 1969. She holds the honor of being the first woman dean of a major American law school, a position she continued to hold until 1980 when she assumed the bench.

Nelson also worked in private practice during her career. She worked with family, juvenile and adoption matters. She formed two major corporations, Woolstone Inc. and California Limestone. She is the author of several books including"Judicial Administration and the Administration of Justice," a law text about law reform.

President Carter nominated Nelson for the position of judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1978, with the U.S. Senate confirming her in 1979. As an appellate judge, she hears 30 to 35 cases per month and spends the rest of her time writing opinions. She has worked to popularize mediation in U.S. Courts.

In 1985, Nelson along with a group of attorneys and judges who believed in finding innovative ways to handle conflict and disputes, established the Western Justice Center Foundation. Since its founding, the Western Justice Center Foundation has created numerous programs that are designed to teach peaceful conflict resolution to children, youth, parents, teachers, administrators and community members and to displace the power violence has in our societies. Included among these programs are the Children's Workshop, Models of Unity Program, Court Workshops, Peer Mediation Invitational and Creative Classroom Management.

Nelson also has served in many organizations, including the Ninth Circuit Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution, Chair of the Board of Directors of Western Justice Center, the Board of Advisors of the Institute for the Study of Women and Men, Chair of the American Judicature Society, and the National Spiritual Assembly of United States. She was a member of the UCLA Awards Committee in 1999 and served on the UCLA Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1952-1954. Nelson also received the UCLA Law Alumnus in 1967, the UCLA Award for Professional Achievement in 1969 and the UCLA Medal in 1993.

She has constantly been honored for her hard work with awards such as The American Bar Association D’ Alemberte/Raven Award for Outstanding Contribution to Dispute Resolution, the Los Angeles and Pasadena Bar Association’s Judge of the Year, the Thurgood Marshall Career Achievement Award, the United Nations World Citizen of the Year Award in 2009 and the Pax Orbis ex Jure Medallion award for world peace through law, 1979, New York Law Centre.

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