J. Harvie Wilkinson III

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Harvie Wilkinson
Wilkinson (left) and Edward Becker at a reception
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 74)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater Lawrenceville School
Yale University
University of Virginia

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 life and career

Wilkinson was born in New York, New York and raised in Richmond, Virginia, where he attended St. Christopher's School, Richmond. He graduated from the Lawrenceville School and with honors from Yale University in 1967, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall and, the chairman of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union, and the president of the Political Union. He served in the Army from 1968 to 1969, and in 1970, Wilkinson made an unsuccessful bid for a Virginia seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, running as a Republican. He then attended the University of Virginia's law school, graduating in 1972. From 1972 to 1973, he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, an experience about which he wrote a book. His clerkship was followed by five years as an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, and three years working as an editor for Norfolk's The Virginian-Pilot. In 1982, he was given a position in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal judgeship

On January 30, 1984, after a brief return to the University of Virginia School of Law, Wilkinson was nominated to the Fourth Circuit by Ronald Reagan. Wilkinson was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 9, 1984, by a vote of 58–39.

From 1996 to 2003, he served as chief judge on that court. In 2003, 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. The decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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 talked about his July interview with Bush in the New York Times, reportedly undermining his candidacy amongst the Bush inner circle.[1]

In 2006, Wilkinson penned an article in the Washington Post, castigating both the left and right on the issue of gay marriage. He wrote that the "American constitutional tradition" has been a "chief casualty in the struggle over same-sex marriage" and that marriage should be regulated through ordinary legislative means and opposed "the rush to constitutionalize" the dispute.[2]

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."[3]


Wilkinson has written five books:

  • Harry Byrd and The Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Serving Justice: A Supreme Court Clerk's View, New York: Charterhouse, 1974<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-19-502567-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • One Nation Indivisible: How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997, ISBN 0-201-18072-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN 0-19-984601-4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.

See also


  1. Once More, Bush Turns To His Inner Circle Washington Post
  2. Hands Off Constitutions J. Harvie Wilkinson III
  3. 570 F. 3d 165, 183 (4th. Cir. 2009).
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