Tales from the Trail

Obama awards Medal of Freedom to distinguished, diverse group

Talk about being in good company.

President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered the highest U.S. civilian honor, to 16 people on Wednesday including a celebrated scientist, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a gay rights pioneer, and a top leader against apartheid in South Africa.

“There are many honors and privileges bestowed on the occupant of this house, but few mean as much to me as the chance to award America’s highest civilian medal to the recipients that are here today,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House. OBAMA/

“This is a chance for me — and for the United States of America — to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries,” he said.

Honorees included scientist Stephen Hawking, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, deceased gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The honorees were not invited to speak during the ceremony, but one slipped in a few words anyway. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow – High Bird, wearing a headdress of brightly colored feathers that created a challenge for the president in draping the medal around his neck, moved over to the microphones to declare the he was deeply honored. Obama, smiling, gently maneuvered him away from the podium and back towards his seat.

The First Draft: Swearing-in is one thing. A White House do is another.

USA-SOTOMAYOR/For those who may have missed it — and don’t laugh, there could be quite a few who did — there’s a new Supreme Court justice in town. After months of speculation, debate, a Capitol Hill grilling and finally a vote to confirm her, Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as the first Latina and only the third woman to serve on the U.S. high court.

The problem, for public-awareness purposes, is that it happened on Saturday in an eye-blink ceremony in a conference room at the Supreme Court building. That was a departure from decades of tradition that has dictated a White House oath-taking for new justices, reportedly on President Barack Obama’s say-so.

That doesn’t mean Sotomayor won’t get her time at the White House. That happens this morning in an East Room reception hosted by the president and first lady Michelle Obama.