The Institute of Bill of Rights Law celebrated Constitution Day on Sept. 25 with a distinguished expert on Constitutional matters: U.S. Court of Appeals Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III. Students, faculty, and members of the public enjoyed a fascinating lunch with Wilkinson, who focused on both practical and theoretical aspects of life as a federal judge.
Wilkinson is a 1967 graduate of Yale University and a 1972 J.D. graduate of the University of Virginia Law School. He clerked from 1972-73 for Justice Lewis F. Powell on the United States Supreme Court, and was later nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
After an introduction by Professor Allison Orr Larsen, who clerked for Wilkinson on the Fourth Circuit, Wilkinson spoke on a variety of topics, including the importance of balancing one’s life experiences during his decisions on the bench and several anecdotes from his earlier years on the Fourth Circuit. He encouraged students to consider clerking as a unique opportunity to learn alongside the country’s finest legal minds, as William & Mary Professors Larsen and James Stern both clerked for him.
Many of Wilkinson’s remarks focused on the continuing Constitutional debate regarding interpretation of statutes and judicial restraint, but he made sure to emphasize the importance of not allowing the debate to become a personal one. He stressed the importance of having friendships that “span the ideological divide” as the debate intensifies.
The lunch was an exceptional opportunity for attendees to appreciate Wilkinson’s perspective on the current state of judicial activism and the developing Constitutional debate.
Later that evening, Wilkinson helped kick off the 28th annual Supreme Court Preview as a judge for the Moot Court. This year's case, Friedrichs et al, v. California Teachers Association, et al, focused on Freedom of Speech in Public Sector Unions. He also participated in panel discussions the following day.
William & Mary hosts an event celebrating Constitution Day each year as a way of commemorating the Sept. 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.