Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: Who is Reggie Walton?

Monday, March 04, 2013

The federal government’s secret Star Chamber court for the approval of state surveillance that would otherwise be unconstitutional has a new presiding judge who has shown little sympathy for civil liberties claims. Appointed by Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Judge Reggie B. Walton has been on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since 2007, with his seven-year term expiring in May 2014. Although the Court’s proceedings are secret, it is known that since opening for business in 1979 it has granted more than 32,000 secret search warrants and rejected only 11. Two of those rejections were only partial, and of the nine full rejections the Court later granted modified requests in three of them, leaving only six complete rejections over 32 years.


Born in Donora, Pennsylvania (also the hometown of Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial) on February 8, 1949, Walton wound up in court three times as a youth for gang fights, but straightened his life out after a friend nearly killed someone. Walton earned a B.A. at West Virginia State University in 1971 on a football scholarship and a J.D. at the American University Washington College of Law in 1974.


Walton was a staff attorney for the Defender Association of Philadelphia from August 1974 to February 1976. Joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., in March, 1976, Walton served as an assistant U.S. attorney until June, 1980, and as executive assistant from June 1980 to July 1981. He was also chief of the Career Criminal Unit from June 1979 to June 1980.


In August 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Walton to serve as an associate judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a local (not federal) court whose members are appointed by the President. Walton was a Superior Court judge from 1981 to 1989, and again from 1991 to 2001, serving as presiding judge of the Family Division and of the Domestic Violence Unit, and as deputy presiding judge of the Criminal Division.


Between 1989 and 1991, Walton served as President George H. W. Bush’s associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President and as Bush’s senior White House advisor for crime. In 1991, Bush appointed Walton for another term on the Superior Court.


After his second stint on the Superior Court, in 2001 Walton was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia and received Senate confirmation. As a federal judge, he has presided over several high-profile cases, including the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of Vice President Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, the perjury trial of pitcher Roger Clemens, and a number of habeas corpus petitions filed by prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


In 2005, Walton found a new way to fight crime. On the way to the airport for a family vacation, Walton saw a man beating up a cabdriver, tackled the attacker and subdued him until police arrived.


Judge Walton and his wife are the parents of one daughter.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Libby Jurist’s Career Built on Toughness (by Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post)

Secret Surveillance Court Gets New Presiding Judge (by David Kravets, Wired)

Black Judges on Justice: Perspectives from the Bench (by Linn Washington) (book)


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