John M. Walker, Jr., was appointed first by President Ronald Reagan to the District Court of the Southern District of New York in 1985, and then by President George H.W. Bush to the Second Circuit in 1989.
Walker was born in New York City on December 26, 1940, the first of seven children of Dr. John M. Walker and Louise Mead Walker. After some years at different residences during and immediately after World War II, in which Dr. Walker served in the Army, the family settled in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Dr. Walker, who graduated from Yale University and Columbia Medical School, was a successful surgeon and a scratch golfer when he was struck by polio at age 40. Unable to perform surgeries (which was why he entered medicine), he joined the New York brokerage firm G.H. Walker & Co., then being run by his older brother G.H. Walker, Jr., and later was managing partner. The firm had been started early in the twentieth century by Walker’s grandfather, G.H. Walker. His grandfather was also a president of the United States Golf Association and in 1922 donated a trophy for an amateur golf competition between the United States and Great Britain that is today known as the “Walker Cup.” His six children, in addition to Dr. Walker and
G.H. Walker, Jr., included Dorothy Walker Bush, who was the mother of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States.
Walker’s mother, Louise Mead Walker, the oldest child of George and Elsie Mead, grew up in Dayton, Ohio. She studied music and attended Sarah Lawrence College until her marriage and the family dislocations during World War II intervened. She later served on the board of Sarah Lawrence and ultimately graduated from the College. Devastated by the loss of her brother George, who as a young Marine was killed on Guadalcanal in World War II, she worked throughout her life for numerous public interest organizations primarily dedicated to reducing international conflict.
Walker graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale University, and then Michigan Law School. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1963 to 1968. In 1966, following law school, Walker spent two years on a public fellowship program as state counsel in the attorney general’s chambers in Botswana, Africa, where he drafted a codification of tribal law and was the country’s principal prosecutor in the regular (non-tribal) courts.
Starting in 1969, Walker resided in New York City. After less than two years in private practice, he joined the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted drug and business fraud cases. Following that, he became a litigation partner on Wall Street at Carter Ledyard and Milburn. In 1980, he was elected from New York’s Upper West Side as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. The election went smoothly because Republicans were so few in number on the Upper West Side that he was able to reach most of them by phone. He joined the Reagan campaign after his cousin George H.W. Bush, for whom he had campaigned, lost the nomination.
From 1981 to 1985, Judge Walker served in the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of Treasury for enforcement and operations with supervisory and regulatory authority over Treasury’s enforcement bureaus: the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Significant events that occurred on then- Assistant Secretary Walker’s watch were the Department of Treasury’s implementation of the Algiers Accords that unfroze Iranian assets upon the release by Iran of 52 American hostages, the Department’s review of the Secret Service’s response to the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, and the development of Treasury’s drug interdiction and financial enforcement programs. For his Treasury service, Judge Walker received the Alexander Hamilton Award, Treasury’s highest honor. Walker’s work caught the attention of New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato who supported him for the position of district judge.
During his four years as a district judge, Judge Walker handled the wide variety of motions and trials in different legal areas typically presented to busy trial judges in the Southern District of New York. Judge Walker’s most notable trial was that of billionaire hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who was convicted of tax fraud.1
Throughout his judicial career on the Court of Appeals, Judge Walker has written several hundred opinions in the various areas of federal law, including securities, anti-trust, copyright, criminal law, criminal and civil procedure, bankruptcy, and constitutional law. He also has taught Constitutional Litigation, first with Judge Pierre Leval at New York University Law School, and later, after he moved his family to Connecticut in 1998, with Judge Guido Calabresi at Yale Law School where he has been a lecturer in law. He has also authored numerous papers and law review articles.
Judge Walker was chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 2000 to 2006. As chief judge, in addition to his normal administrative duties, he faced several unique challenges. First, dislocations resulting from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks required cleaning the Foley Square building, restoring the telephone system and temporarily holding court at the New York City Bar Association. Then, in 2005, the court was inundated by a flood of more than 5,000 alien petitions from the Department of Justice (after Attorney General John Ashcroft had directed their summary administrative disposition). This required establishing a non-argument immigration calendar, alongside the court’s regular argument calendar. Judge Jon O. Newman, picked by Judge Walker to lead the effort, worked tirelessly on this successful backlog reduction project. Finally, Judge Walker had to address the severe physical deterioration of the Cass Gilbert- designed courthouse at Foley Square. He secured $200 million in federal funding for a major courthouse renovation that required vacating the building for several years and led the project until he stepped down as chief judge. The renovation continued into the term of his successor, Judge Dennis Jacobs, who obtained supplemental funding from the major stimulus package that followed the 2008 financial collapse and led the project through to its completion.
Judge Walker took an interest in judicial administration beyond the chief judge’s required duties. At various times, at the request of the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court he served on the Executive, Budget, and International Judicial Relations Committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and was chair of the Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability.
Starting with a trip to China in 2002 as part of a judicial delegation that was requested by the Chinese Supreme People’s Court and led by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Judge Walker resumed his interest in the legal systems of developing countries. Aided by his experience in court administration, Judge Walker thereafter worked on rule of law projects for various judiciaries in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He helped establish a governing structure for the courts in Albania, for which that country’s President, Alfred Moisiu, awarded him a Medal of Merit. He has trained judges in countries such as Poland, Thailand, Iraq, Tunisia and the Republic of Georgia.
Judge Walker, as a member of the International Judicial Relations Committee, was the liaison from the U.S. Courts to the Chinese judiciary. This took him frequently to China, where he worked on various law projects and lectured to law students, lawyers and judges. Even though China has no common law tradition of
stare decisis, Judge Walker has assisted the Supreme People’s Court in developing a system of precedent—the so- called “Guiding Cases” system. He has also been a regular participant in an ongoing track-two dialogue on rule of law and human rights development in collaboration with noted Chinese law scholar Professor Jerome Cohen of New York University, which meets in China and the United States.
Judge Walker was also instrumental in organizing the Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe. The Conference first met in 2011 at the CEELI Institute in Prague with the participation of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. The Conference includes the chief justices of the supreme courts of 24 countries from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus, including the Balkan Peninsula, that were formerly republics within the Soviet Union or under the Soviet sphere of influence. The Conference, which Judge Walker has continued to advise, meets annually in a different country in Central and Eastern Europe. It provides a confidential forum in which the chief justices in these developing democracies are able to learn from one another by sharing ideas and discussing issues of common concern. In 2015, in Brijuni, Croatia, with Judge
Walker’s assistance, the Fifth Conference issued an extensive Statement of Principles of Judicial Independence.2
Judge Walker’s awards for judicial service include the Learned Hand Medal for Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence (Federal Bar Council), the Robert L. Haig Award for Distinguished Public Service (New York State Bar Association), the J. Edward Lumbard Award for Outstanding Service (United States Attorney’s Office), and honorary L.L.D. degrees from Brooklyn Law School, Quinnipiac Law School, and Capital Law School.
In 1987, Judge Walker married Katharine B. Kirkland. To her three boys, the couple added a daughter, Katie, in 1992. The family includes five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
1. See United States v. Helmsley, 941 F.2d 71 (2d Cir. 1991).
2. See CEELI INSTITUTE, The Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe Undertakes Landmark Step in Approving The Statement of Principle of the Independence of the Judiciary,