The medal is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors, according to an announcement from the White House.
"These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds," President Obama said. "Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."
Among her many achievements, Justice O'Connor was the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first woman in the United States to lead a state senate as Senate Majority Leader. At a time when women rarely entered the legal profession, she graduated Stanford Law School third in her class, where she served on the Stanford Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif.
To read the White House announcement, click here.