J. Harvie Wilkinson III

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Harvie Wilkinson
Wilkinson (left) and Edward Becker
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Assumed office
August 13, 1984
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by John Butzner
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
In office
February 14, 1996 – February 15, 2003
Preceded by Samuel Ervin
Succeeded by William Wilkins
Personal details
Born (1944-09-29) September 29, 1944 (age 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Education Yale University (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)

James Harvie Wilkinson III (born September 29, 1944) is a federal judge serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His name has been raised at several junctures in the past as a possible nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

Early and family life[edit]

Wilkinson was born in New York, New York to J. Harvie Wilkinson Jr. and his wife. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia, where he attended St. Christopher's School during the state's Massive Resistance crisis concerning desegregation of the public schools. His father (CEO of State Planters Bank, later part of Crestar Bank) joined with Norfolk and Western Railroad CEO Stuart Saunders and Richmond School Board President (and later Supreme Court Justice) Lewis F. Powell and others to support Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. when he decided to break with the Byrd Organization and adhere to the decisions of the Virginia Supreme Court and a three judge federal panel on January 19, 1959, which declared certain new laws designed to maintain segregation unconstitutional.[1]

Wilkinson attended the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, then Yale University, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall, chairman of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union, and later the Political Union's president. He graduated with honors from Yale in 1967, then published his first book, Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966 (1968)[2] Wilkinson served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1969.

Upon leaving the army, Wilkinson began law school at the University of Virginia's law school in Charlottesville. In 1970, after completing only one year, Wilkinson took a leave of absence to run (at age 25) for a Virginia seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran as a Republican against 3-term incumbent Democrat David E. Satterfield III and later joked about losing by a significant margin, noting that Satterfield had a billboard urging voters to send Wilkinson back to law school.[3][4] Wilkinson then resumed his legal studies and graduated in 1972 (when Satterfield faced no opposition) and soon passed the Virginia bar exam.

Wilkinson and his wife have two children.[5] His daughter Porter Wilkinson also clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court, serving in the chambers of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2007-2008.[6]

Early legal, teaching and writing career[edit]

From 1972 to 1973, Wilkinson served as a law clerk to newly-confirmed Justice Powell, long a family friend. Following his clerkship, Wilkinson declined joining a large law firm. Instead, he returned to Charlottesville and joined the University of Virginia School of Law faculty, where he taught as an associate professor for five years. Wilkinson also wrote and published his second book, about his clerkship with Justice Powell: Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View (1974).[7]

Wilkinson also spent three years (1978-1981) working for Norfolk's The Virginian-Pilot, including as editorial page editor.[8] He later credited this with broadening his practical experience of both government at many levels, and with people in all walks of life, as well as helping his time management skills.[9] In 1979, Wilkinson published his third book, From Brown to Bakke.[10] In 1982, Wilkinson resumed his legal career, joining the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, eventually becoming deputy assistant attorney general.

Federal judge[edit]

On November 10, 1983, as Wilkinson briefly returned to teach at the University of Virginia School of Law as a full professor, President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Fourth Circuit seat vacated by retiring Judge John Butzner. Despite some controversy and after hearings on November 16, 1983 and February 22, 1984, the United States Senate confirmed Wilkinson on August 9, 1984, by a vote of 58–39. He received his commission on August 13, 1984.[11]

From 1996 to 2003, Wilkinson served as the court's chief judge, but still managed to write and publish his fourth book, One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America (1997).[12] In 2003, Judge Wilkinson wrote the majority opinion upholding the right of the United States government to detain Yaser Esam Hamdi indefinitely without access to counsel or a court. Hamdi was a U.S. citizen captured during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately overturned that decision.

With the announcement of Chief Justice Rehnquist's illness in the fall of 2004, many commentators listed Wilkinson as a potential Bush nominee to the Supreme Court. Wilkinson agreed to an interview with the New York Times, reportedly undermining his candidacy amongst the Bush inner circle.[13]

In 2006, Wilkinson penned an op-ed article in the Washington Post, castigating both the left and right on the issue of gay marriage. Writing that the "American constitutional tradition" has been a "chief casualty in the struggle over same-sex marriage", Wilkinson opined that marriage should be regulated through ordinary legislative means and opposed "the rush to constitutionalize" the dispute.[14]

On June 24, 2008, Wilkinson authored a concurring opinion in Richmond Medical Center For Women v. Herring, which upheld the Virginia ban on partial-birth abortions. In his concurrence, he voiced a strong opposition to the practice of partial-birth abortions: "The fact is that we—civilized people—are retreating to the haven of our Constitution to justify dismembering a partly born child and crushing its skull. Surely centuries hence, people will look back on this gruesome practice done in the name of fundamental law by a society of high achievement. And they will shudder."[15]

In 2012, Wilkinson, who still had not taken senior status nor reduced his workload, published his fifth book (and second through Oxford University Press), Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance.[16] The following year, Wilkinson wrote an opinion upholding the Baltimore Ravens "Flying B" logo as not infringing an artist's claimed broad copywright.[17]

In 2017 Wilkinson published, All Falling Faiths: Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s.


Wilkinson has published numerous editorials, law review articles[18] and five books:

  • Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968 .
  • Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View, New York: Charterhouse, 1974 .
  • From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-19-502567-9 .
  • One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997, ISBN 0-201-18072-3 .
  • Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN 0-19-984601-4 .

Honors and awards[edit]

In 2004, the University of Virginia awarded Wilkinson the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, its highest external honor.[19]

In 2009, the Lawrenceville School awarded him its highest honor.[20]

In 2016, the John Barbee Minor Inn of Court in Charlottesville recognized Wilkinson's three decades of judicial service with a Certificate of Merit and Lifetime Achievement Award.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linwood Holton, A former governor's reflections on Massive Resistance in Virginia, 49 Washington & Lee Law Review 15, 20 (1992) available at http://mlkcommission.dls.virginia.gov/va_school_closings/pdfs/Linwood_Holton_and_Massive_Resistance.pdf
  2. ^ J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968)
  3. ^ https://law.duke.edu/video/lives-law-judge-j-harvie-wilkinson-iii/
  4. ^ http://historical.elections.virginia.gov/elections/view/78735
  5. ^ http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/SupremeCourt/story?id=1257307
  6. ^ http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/news/2007_fall/wilkinson.htm
  7. ^ J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View (New York: Charterhouse, 1974)
  8. ^ http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/judges/judges-of-the-court/judge-j-harvie-wilkinson-iii
  9. ^ https://law.duke.edu/video/lives-law-judge-j-harvie-wilkinson-iii/
  10. ^ J. Harvie Wilkinson III, From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)
  11. ^ https://ballotpedia.org/Harvie_Wilkinson
  12. ^ J. Harvie Wilkinson III, One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997
  13. ^ Once More, Bush Turns To His Inner Circle Washington Post
  14. ^ Hands Off Constitutions J. Harvie Wilkinson III
  15. ^ 570 F. 3d 165, 183 (4th. Cir. 2009).
  16. ^ J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)
  17. ^ http://www.courthousenews.com/2013/12/19/63917.htm
  18. ^ http://libguides.law.virginia.edu/faculty/wilkinson
  19. ^ http://libguides.law.virginia.edu/faculty/wilkinson
  20. ^ http://www.lawrenceville.org/news/item/index.aspx?pageaction=ViewSinglePublic&LinkID=5451&ModuleID=22
  21. ^ http://www.phideltaphi.org/news/286889/Honoring-U.S.-Circuit-Court-Judge-J.-Harvie-Wilkinson-III---Minor-Inn-42516.htm
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Butzner
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Preceded by
Samuel Ervin
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Succeeded by
William Wilkins