Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1919, Walker graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Los Angeles, and went on to UC Berkeley's law school, Boalt Hall. She joined the Communist Party USA whilst at UCLA in the late 1930s. The only woman in her class, Walker graduated from Boalt Hall in 1942.
Walker was close friends with the writer Jessica Mitford for years; Jessica was married to Robert Treuhaft, Doris’ law partner. Doris invited Jessica and her husband to join the Communist Party, prompting the latter to reply "We thought you’d never ask!" There have been articles speculating that author J.K. Rowling, who considers Mitford her heroine, named her Harry Potter character Dobby the house elf after encountering the name Dobby in Mitford's works.
Walker was widowed in 1951, and re-married in 1952, thereby acquiring the additional surname "Roberson".
Walker was fired from her first law firm, which she attributed to her gender. In the mid-1940s she left legal practice and became a labor organizer in a series of canneries, being fired when her employers learned she was a Communist. From 1946 to 1949 she worked at Cutter Laboratories in San Francisco, becoming a union leader before being fired in 1949. A labor-management arbitration panel ordered her reinstated, on the grounds that Cutter had long known she was a Communist and improperly dismissed Walker for her union activity, but in a 4-3 ruling the California Supreme Court declared that a Communist had no right to a job, even under a union contract. In 1956, the case was heard at the US Supreme Court. The Court rejected the case 8-3 on the grounds that there was no federal element, although a dissenting opinion considered it a First Amendment issue. This case has since been overruled, as the federal policy of deference to labor arbitration is regarded as preempting the field.
After being fired by Cutter Labs, Walker returned to legal practice, representing people charged under the 1940 Smith Act for the "crime" of being members of the Communist Party. In the 1950s Walker represented individuals subpenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in 1953 appeared before the Committee herself, declining to answer any questions on a number of grounds, including that constitutionally the Congressional committee was only entitled to act in a legislative capacity, and it was evident that it was seeking to act in a judicial capacity.
From 1956 to 1961, Walker provided "virtually pro-bono" defense of journalist John W. Powell, who was prosecuted for reporting that the United States biological weapons program had been actively employed during the Korean War.
In 1961 Walker was a founding partner, with Robert Treuhaft, at the firm of Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein. She remained a partner until 1977, her practice focusing on "civil rights, free speech and draft cases during the Vietnam War." She also defended death penalty cases, including the 1972 Angela Davis case for which she is best known. In 1971-2 Walker played a key role in the defense of Angela Davis in her historic California murder, kidnapping, & conspiracy trial in which Davis faced the death penalty. The defense pioneered use of the media and jury consultants. The Davis case is still being analyzed as a blueprint of modern day litigation, with Professor Charles Ogletree in 2005 calling it "clearly the trial of the 20th century, and one that exemplified the vast and diverse talents of the true Dream Team of the legal profession." Future Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was then an intern at Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein, during the Summer of 1971.
In 1970, Walker was elected the first woman president of the National Lawyers Guild. Walker remained active in her 80s as a Guild lawyer in the San Francisco Bay chapter on the Labor & Employment Committee and the State Bar Committee, and was an East Bay leader in the Gray Panthers.
In spring of 2004, Walker submitted on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area Chapter to the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Association asking the California Congressional Delegation to investigate representations by the Bush administration used to justify the war in Iraq for possible impeachment. The resolution follows:
Resolved, that the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations urges California
Congressional Delegation to commence a Congressional investigation of representations by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Bush Administration, used to justify war on Iraq and Afghanistan toCongress, the United Nations and to the people of the U.S. and the world, without a formal request for Congress to declare war.
- House Un-American Activities Committee, 83rd Congress, First Session, December 4, 1953, Investigation of Communist activities in the San Francisco area. Hearing
- Legendary National Lawyers Guild Attorney Doris Brin Walker Dies National Lawyers Guild
- San Francisco Chronicle, 19 August 2009, Doris Walker - fought to acquit Angela Davis
- National Lawyers Guild, Doris Brin Walker, accessed 19 August 2009
- National Lawyers Guild, 17 August 2009, Legendary National Lawyers Guild Attorney Doris Brin Walker Dies
- CounterPunch, 19 August 2009, Legendary Lawyer Doris Brin Walker Dies; Represented Angela Davis, Smith Act Defendants
- The Guardian, 19 November 2001, Robert Treuhaft
- Is Dobby a Communist? HP-Lexicon
- Metro Santa Cruz, 23 May 2007, Readers Of the World, Unite
- "1956—Lost the decision (6:3) in Black v. Cutter Labs, 351 U.S. 292, but won a great dissent by Justice Douglas. The Supreme Court had denied cert. on the narrow holding that the case did not present a federal question. Cutter Labs fired Walker upon finding out about her law degree and previous labor organizing activities (information she withheld on her employment application and admitted during litigation), and alleged Communist Party membership. The California supreme court held that a firing for CP membership could be called "just cause" if the corporation's contract with the union allowed it. In denying cert., the Court held that the controversy was within California contracts law, without a federal issue. Justice Douglas (joined in dissent by Chief Justice Warren and Justice Black) wrote, "The blunt truth is that Doris Walker is discharged not for misconduct but either because of her legitimate labor union activities or because of her political ideology or belief," making this a First Amendment case that should have been heard."National Lawyers Guild; The Ism & the Law, Time Magazine, January 31, 1955
- Robert Speer, San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 27, 2006, Dirty Secrets
- Gerstein, Josh (2007-11-26). "Hillary Clinton's Radical Summer". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
- #01_03 IMPEACHMENT. University of South Florida