John Mercer Walker Jr. (born December 26, 1940) is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was appointed to the Second Circuit in 1989 and served as the Circuit's chief judge from October 1, 2000 to October 1, 2006, when he assumed senior status.
He was a judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, appointed in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, before being elevated to the Second Circuit in 1989.
Judge Walker was born in New York City. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1958, and received his Bachelor of Arts from Yale University in 1962. He received his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1966.
Judge Walker is married to Katharine K. Walker, has a daughter and three stepsons, and lives in Madison, Connecticut. He is the son of Dr. John M. Walker Sr. and Elsie Louise Mead. His uncle is George Herbert Walker, Jr., co-founder of the New York Mets. He is a first cousin of U.S. President George H. W. Bush, the two having a grandfather in common, George Herbert Walker. He is also a first cousin, once removed, of U.S. President George W. Bush and his brother, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.
Judge Walker served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1963 until 1968. From 1966 until 1968, he was State Counsel to the Republic of Botswana under the aegis of an Africa-Asia Public Service Fellowship.
Judge Walker was in private practice in New York City from 1969 to 1970. From 1970 to 1975 he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal Division in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. In 1975 he returned to private law practice with the New York firm of Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, where he was initially an associate and then a partner.
In 1981 Judge Walker became Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, responsible for policy in law enforcement, regulatory, and trade matters, and with oversight of the Customs Service, Secret Service, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. As Assistant Secretary, he helped establish the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal and served as a U.S. representative to Interpol. He also oversaw the Treasury's review of Secret Service operations following the attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Among the shortcomings of the Secret Service that the review identified and remedied were inadequate reserve personnel and the use of unencrypted radio communications.
In 1985, John M. Walker Jr. was appointed by President Reagan as United States District Judge to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He filled the seat of Judge Morris E. Lasker, who had taken senior status. As a district judge, Walker presided over the 1989 tax fraud trial of Leona Helmsley, whom he sentenced to four years in jail.
Judge Walker was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1989, succeeding Irving Kaufman, who took senior status. Judge Walker's district court seat was filled by Sonia Sotomayor, who later became a colleague on the Second Circuit bench, before she was appointed a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. He served as the chief judge of the Second Circuit from October 1, 2000 to October 1, 2006, when he assumed senior status. His seat was filled by Debra Ann Livingston.
In 2002, Judge Walker was awarded the Learned Hand Medal for "excellence in Federal Jurisprudence" by the Federal Bar Council and in 2006 the Robert L. Haig Award for "distinguished public service" by the New York State Bar Association.
Judge Walker has served as Special Counsel to the U.S. Administrative Conference (1987–1992) and president of the Federal Judges' Association (1993–1995). As chief judge, Judge Walker was engaged with all three levels of federal court administration. He led the Court of Appeals, chaired the Second Circuit Judicial Council with responsibility for all of the courts within the Second Circuit (consisting of the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont), and on the national level was a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States (2000-2006). He was also a member of the Conference's Executive Committee (2003-2006), its Budget Committee (1990-1999), its Committee on International Judicial Relations (2006-2012), and he was Chair of the Conference's Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability (2009-2013).
Judge Walker is a strong advocate of judicial independence for both courts in the United States and in other countries. He has condemned the growing politicization of the judicial nomination and confirmation process for federal judges. The "political theater" that judicial nominees are subjected to in the Senate, he writes, "politicizes the judiciary, misrepresents the judiciary's role in our democracy, demeans highly qualified nominees, and unjustifiably delays or jettisons confirmations." An independent judge, in his view, is one who applies the law to the facts of the case at hand, giving due respect to precedent. The independent judge "must remain detached and impartial -- and not merely from personal or financial interests" but also be free of "any responsibility to party or social faction" and "must not be concerned with whether an outcome will incur public approbation or wrath."
Since 2000, Judge Walker has been a Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, where he has taught constitutional litigation with fellow Second Circuit judges Guido Calabresi and Susan L. Carney and with district judges Mark Kravitz and Jeffrey Meyer.
From 1996 to 2000, Judge Walker was an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law and a member of NYU's Institute of Judicial Administration and Appellate Judges Seminar. He has also served on the Board of the U.S. Association of Constitutional Law since 1997 and the CEELI Institute in Prague since 2006.
Judge Walker is actively involved in initiatives to promote the rule of law, strengthen judiciaries and foster cooperation among judges around the world, especially in Eastern and Central Europe, China and the Middle East. He was a member of the U.S. delegation to the G8 Experts Conference on the Rule of Law in Berlin in 2007.
Judge Walker has worked across Central and Eastern Europe to promote the development of judicial institutions in individual countries and to foster collaboration among judiciaries across the region and the United States. In 2011, he helped organize the first Conference of the Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe, hosted by the CEELI Institute in Prague, which was attended by the chief justices, presidents and high officers of the supreme courts that region of the world Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. The Conference, now an ongoing institution, provides a unique forum for the head of judiciaries to share their experience, discuss problems and offer solutions. Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. delivered the opening remarks and participated in the first conference.
The Chief Justices Conference arose out of CEELI's Judicial Integrity Round Tables. In 2006, while on a trip to Hungary, Judge Walker saw a need for closer communication among the chief justices of Central and Eastern European countries. He then led the round table discussions on judicial integrity among the heads of the Supreme Court in the region at the CEELI Institute in Prague in 2007 and 2010. At the 2010 round table, the participants expressed a desire to hold regular conferences on an ongoing basis. After the first Chief Justices Conference in 2011, Judge Walker has represented the Ceeli Institute and remained an advisor to the Conference. He has helped plan and participated in subsequent Chief Justice Conferences hosted in Albania (2012), Montenegro (2013), Georgia (2014), Croatia (2015), Serbia (2016) and Hungary (2017). Since 2013, the Russian Federation has actively participated in the work of the Conference.
Judge Walker began working on issues of legal reform and judicial administration in Eastern Europe in 2004 when Chief Justice of Albania Thimjo Kondi sought assistance with the administration of the Albanian judiciary. Judge Walker made multiple trips to Albania to assist with the establishment of a judicial conference modeled upon that of the U.S. federal judiciary and to teach judicial ethics. He has discussed legal reform issues with President Alfred Moisiu and Bamir Topi and prime ministers Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha. He worked with Chief Justice Shpresa Beçaj to host the second Chief Justices Conference in Tirana in 2012.
Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Judge Walker has discussed law reform issues with leaders in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Montenegro, where he has also given remarks and met with law school faculty and students, bar associations and judges. In 2008 he helped organize a conference on rule of law and law school accreditation in Georgia where he worked on law reform issues the previous year with Chief Justice of the Georgian Supreme Court Konstantin Kublashvili and discussed rule of law issues with President Saakashvili.
Since 1986, Judge Walker has been active in rule of law programs and exchanges with China. He has participated in exchanges with Chinese judges in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Xiamen and Haikou. He has lectured or spoken on U.S. law and rule of law topics at the National Judges College, National Prosecutors College, Peking University, Renmin University, China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing Normal University, Fudan University, East China University of Political Science and Law and the joint China program of Zhejiang University Guanghua Law School and Thomas Jefferson Law School in Hangzhou.
He has conferred on issues of legal reform with Chinese officials including President of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) Xiao Yang, SPC vice-president Wan Exiang, Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate Cao Jianming, vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Huang Mengfu, and Director of the State Council Information Office Wang Chen. In 2002, he helped arrange with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor a judicial delegation to meet in Beijing with the Supreme People's Court and accompanied Justice O'Connor to a meeting with President Jiang Zemin in Zhongnanhai. In 2009, working with China law expert Professor Jerome Cohen, Judge Walker led the American delegation at the inaugural Sino-American Dialogue on the Rule of Law and Human Rights, a Track II dialogue co-sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the China Foundation for Human Rights Development, in Nantong. More recently, working with experts at Yale and Stanford and with the Supreme People's Court, he has supported the development of a system of precedent in China, known as the "Guiding Cases System."
Elsewhere in Asia, Judge Walker participated in rule of law programs in 2010 in Thailand and in 2012 in South Korea where he met with the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court and with judges and law students and faculty.
Judge Walker spoke at "Arab Judicial Forum 2003: Judicial Systems in the 21st Century," a conference on judicial reform in the Middle East that was held in Bahrain in 2003 and attended by 17 countries, and the "Regional Forum on the Role of Civil Society in Promoting the Rule of Law in the Arab Region" held in Jordan in 2008. He has also been engaged with training programs for Iraqi officials and judges held in Iraq, Jordan and Bahrain. He has conferred with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Iraq, Medhat al-Mahmoud, on issues relating to the rule of law and human rights.
On the evening of October 17, 2006, while driving home, Judge Walker's Ford Escape automobile struck a police officer, Daniel Picagli, who was directing traffic in a rainstorm at a road construction site for AT&T in New Haven, Connecticut. There were no construction signs or traffic cones marking off the site. Picagli died four days later on October 21, 2006. "He had been wearing a black raincoat and a reflective vest". Police Chief Francisco Ortiz said the "officers did not feel it was necessary to test Walker for drugs or alcohol". Walker stopped immediately, and New Haven police have said the cause was not related to drugs or alcohol. A police investigation reported that Walker "was traveling at a slow speed through the dark and rainy construction site." The prosecutor declined to press charges, saying nothing indicated "intentional, negligent or reckless conduct" by Walker.
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