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Wilkinson ’72 Receives Thomas Jefferson Medal

J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Peter Walker, principal of Peter Walker and Partners and newly selected winner of the design competition for the World Trade Center memorial, have been chosen to receive the annual Thomas Jefferson Medals in Law and Architecture, respectively.

The medals, sponsored jointly by the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, are the highest outside honors given by UVA. They will be presented to Wilkinson and Walker on April 13 as part of Founder’s Day activities here.

“These medals emphasize the vitality of the Jeffersonian ideals of creativity and leadership in today’s world, and it is a privilege to join with the University in honoring individuals whose accomplishments have had a significant impact on our culture as well as our legacy for future generations,” said Daniel P. Jordan, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Often discussed as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Wilkinson earned his J.D. from the Law School in 1972 and then served as clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

Wilkinson has returned to the Law School to teach four times. He also served as editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot from 1978 to 1981, and as deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1983–1984. He was on the University’s Board of Visitors from 1970 to 1973. He is the author of “Harry Byrd and the Changing Face of Virginia Politics” (1968); “From Brown to Bakke, The Supreme Court and School Integration” (1979), and “One Nation Indivisible, How Ethnic Separatism Threatens America” (1997).

Wilkinson is known for conservative rulings. In a speech to the Law School last spring titled “Why Conservative Jurisprudence is Compassionate,” he argued that the nation’s courts have a higher duty to maintain rational and impartial standards of judgment that preserve public trust in the judiciary than in finding remedies for social problems, a task properly left to legislatures. Conservative judges are faulted as too strict about adhering to rules or caring more about hypothetical future issues than immediate injuries to claimants, he said, but emotional decisions lead to disparate outcomes that end up undermining public confidence in the justice system.

“Reason, cold calculating unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials of our future support and defense,” Wilkinson said, borrowing Abraham Lincoln’s words.

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