Who Is J. Harvie Wilkinson III?

ByABC News
October 27, 2005, 6:56 PM

Oct. xx, 2005 — -- Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and has a strong conservative track record.

Born in New York and raised in an affluent section of Richmond, Va., the son of a banker graduated with honors from Yale University in 1967 and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1972. He also served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1969.

Wilkinson, 61, was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who was a close family friend, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Following his 1972-73 clerkship, he wrote "Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View," the first of his four books on law and history.

Wilkinson was an associate and full professor at University of Virginia Law School from 1973 to 1978 and then had a stint in journalism as editorial page editor of the The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., from 1978 to 1982.

Wilkinson was deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for a year. He was appointed to the 4th Circuit by President Reagan in 1984.

From 1996 to 2003, Wilkinson served as chief judge of the court, where, according to reports, he is both affable and aggressive in his arguments.

"He is highly respected within the 4th Circuit and nationally," Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond's law school, told the Times-Dispatch last year. "I would describe him as a moderate conservative in most areas. He has an extremely personable and gregarious personality."

In 1998, Wilkinson told the Times-Dispatch what he thinks about after preparing a ruling by the court. "I'm asking myself: 'Did we follow the Supreme Court? Were we faithful to the intentions of Congress? Did we properly interpret the text of a statute? Did we do justice to the litigant involved?' Those are my reference points and those are my guideposts."

Wilkinson has been involved in many notable cases during his 21 years on the 4th Circuit Court. From opposing racial preferences to granting hardly any death row reviews, his record is consistently conservative.

One of the most prominent was his majority opinion upholding the right of the U.S. government to indefinitely detain Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured during the invasion of Afghanistan, without access to counsel or a court. The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court.

In his opinion, Wilkinson deferred to the executive branch's primary role during times of war. In a July 2004 ruling, he wrote, "Our Constitution's commitment of the conduct of war to the political branches of American government requires the court's respect at every step."

But he acknowledged in a January 2004 ruling that the courts have a role as a check on the other branches of government, writing, "The duty of the judicial branch to protect our individual freedoms does not simply cease whenever our military forces are committed ... to armed conflict."

Wilkinson also has a record of opposing affirmative action. In a 1987 ruling in Croson v. City of Richmond, he struck down minority set-aside programs in the city. This was a landmark case that curtailed the power of local governments to adopt racial preference programs. His decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1989 ruling.

In his 1997 book, "One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America," Wilkinson called racial preferences "dangerous." But he went on to call for an end to racial separatism in America and a celebration of multiculturalism.

Wilkinson also wrote the majority opinion in a 1996 case that upheld President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay people serving in the U.S. military.

"I would characterize his opinions as very lucid and literary," Smolla told the Times-Dispatch. "His opinions often explore all sides of an issue before they come to a conclusion. His views are generally conservative and usually in line with the current trends on the existing United States Supreme Court."

Proponents say Wilkinson is a solid conservative, and he has a track record that supports him on the issues they care about.

Wilkinson and his wife have two children.