William Walter Wilkins, Jr. '64
Distinguished by his unselfish and unflagging devotion to public service in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and to his nation, Judge Wilkins, Davidson Class of 1964, embodies these words Senator Strom Thurmond once used to describe him: "He is a man of character and unquestionable integrity." After working as a law clerk for former Chief Judge Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr., and in private practice in Greenville, Judge Wilkins was elected Solicitor for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and served in that capacity until July of 1981, when he was appointed United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina. He was the first federal judge appointed by President Reagan. It was in this position that Judge Wilkins exhibited his mastery of legal principles, his innate thoughtfulness and consideration of all advocates before the court, and selfless pursuit of justice and its place in a democratic society.
In 1985, President Reagan appointed Judge Wilkins the first Chairman of the United States Sentencing Commission. The Commission is charged with creating guidelines for the sentencing of federal defendants, and as Chairman from 1985 until 1994, Judge Wilkins strived to produce more "uniform, fair and truthful sentences." He did this through his thoughtful and profound understanding of the law -- a quality he shared with his colleague on the Sentencing Commission, now Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Judge Wilkins carried out this important duty while continuing to serve as a federal judge.
In June of 1986, he was appointed United States Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reviews cases from the many United States District Courts in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Because the United States Supreme Court hears so few cases, it is in this forum that much of our law is clarified and settled. As a "judge's judge" on the court of appeals, Judge Wilkins has become known to all as one with an inviolate sense of right and an unswerving obedience to the most exacting standards of ethics, to the impartiality of his judgments, and to the graciousness of his courtesy and manners to all. As such, he has won the hearts of many and earned the respect and esteem of all who honor character and love justice.
His colleague on the Fourth Circuit and fellow Davidson alumnus, Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr., describes Judge Wilkins' service on the Court of Appeals as "exemplary." "He is always well prepared, always current in his work, highly intelligent, quick to master newly-encountered law, and equally quick to master the critical facts of a case. Judge Wilkins is always civil in his relationships with colleagues, courteous and respectful to members of the bar, tough-minded in defending positions taken, but personally secure enough to change his mind when convinced of their error. Judge Wilkins is a fine judge and colleague with whom it is a pleasure to serve."
Judge Wilkins' litany of accomplishments and his solemn character and reputation as a distinguished jurist certainly bring truth to the old saying, "a Davidson Man needs no introduction."
Because you epitomize dedication to the pursuit of justice and have devoted your abilities and energies to a notable life of public service, the Davidson College Alumni Association gratefully recognizes you, William Walter Wilkins, Jr., with this Distinguished Alumnus Award on this, the fifteenth day of October, 1997.