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Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella.

Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella has become the first Canadian judge to become an elected member of the 275-year-old American Philosophical Society.

Justice Abella, 71, is the longest-serving judge on the Supreme Court of Canada, having been appointed by prime minister Paul Martin in 2004. She is known for rulings defending the rights of children, refugees and religious minorities. She is also known for heading a 1984 commission that led to the creation of Canada’s federal employment equity law, and for coining the term employment equity.

The American Philosophical Society was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 to promote “useful knowledge,” and describes itself as that country’s oldest learned society. Its early members included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and later, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. “Philosophical,” at the time of the group’s founding, referred to the study of nature, the society says.

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The society said in a statement that it “recognizes Justice Abella as a leading voice for human rights among judges of the world’s high courts. Her 14 years on the Canadian Supreme Court have been distinguished for the clarity and wisdom of her opinions. At an earlier phase of her career, her work on equal employment opportunity established an analytical framework that the Canadian Supreme Court and courts around the world have adopted.”

Current society members include U.S. Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The society has 983 members, of whom 161 are international members.

The society encourages its members to attend its twice-yearly meetings that “express the universal spirit of the 18th-century ‘Age of Reason’ ” and “convey the conviction of its members that intellectual inquiry and critical thought are inherently in the public interest.”

Justice Abella, who was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany after the Second World War, is the first child of Holocaust survivors to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court. Last year, she was named global jurist of the year by Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights in Chicago. Two years ago, she became the first Canadian woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University in its then-315-year history.

Last year, in a speech at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, she said the independence of a free media and independent judiciary were under attack internationally, decrying “a shocking disrespect for the borders between power and its independent adjudicators like the press and the courts.”

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