JUDGE REGGIE B. WALTON ’74: Passionate Public Servant
For Reggie B. Walton ’74, public service is a way of life. A United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, he has held public service positions for his entire career, and currently serves not only in D.C. but also as a judge for the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as chairperson of the National Prison Rape Reduction Commission, by the appointment of Chief Justice Rehnquist, as a member of the federal judiciary’s Criminal Law Committee, and on the D.C. Circuit Court’s Judicial Council, which decides complaints filed against federal judges in D.C.
But what is most remarkable about Walton’s service is the way his passion for improving society comes through in his daily work. One recent morning, for example, he made a point of telling the courtroom at large that he was “sick and tired” of seeing young African-American men caught up in the prison system, with chains on their ankles reminiscent of slavery. He lectured the defendant on responsibility and opportunity, counseling him to get his life together and, in effect, loose the chains. Walton admits he has a reputation of being tough on crime – and watching him in the courtroom it becomes clear that he is working not only to protect communities from criminals, he is working to transform criminals into productive members of society.
“I entered the law because I saw it as a way for social change,” Walton told Linn Washington, in his book Black Judges on Justice.
Walton has been a public defender (in the Defender Association of Philadelphia) as well as a prosecutor (as assistant United States attorney in D.C.); he served as assistant drug czar under President George H.W. Bush and served as a judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for 18 years, presiding over family, domestic violence and criminal divisions. He has received numerous awards, from the Assistant U.S. States Attorneys’ Association, the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and many more.
It’s an impressive list of accomplishments, especially for a man born, as he says, of “humble beginnings.” Walton, 59, grew up in Donora, Pennsylvania, where his father worked as a janitor. Never a scholar in high school, (“I did the minimum amount necessary so I could play ball on Friday night,” he says), he won a football scholarship to West Virginia State College, where he became an honor student. After an intensive six-week pre-law program at Howard University, the Washington College of Law gave Walton a scholarship, for which he is tremendously grateful.
“[WCL] opened a door for me,” he says. He shows his gratitude by contributing generously: he is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council and the Black Alumni Association, judges moot court proceedings, has mentored current students, and hires law clerks and interns from the school. In 2000 he received WCL’s North Star Award, and in 1999 the Distinguished Alumni Award.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have achieved the things I’ve been given the opportunity to do,” says Walton. “I feel an obligation to give back and make my society better.”
**This alumni profile originally appeared in the Fall 2008 edition of The Advocate, WCL's alumni magazine.