In honor of 2018's African-American Heritage Month, the AO’s Office of Fair Employment Practices hosted three judges on Feb. 22 for a conversation about breaking barriers and multifaceted approaches to the bench.

Moderated by U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama, the panel featured Judge Tanya S. Chutkan and Judge Reggie Walton, both of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The conversation explored the intersectionality of their very different backgrounds  — which include living with polio and growing up in the segregated South, immigrating from the Caribbean, and run-ins with the law — and their pathways to the federal bench.

Learn more about the panelists

U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson, of Montgomery, Alabama, pushed past the paralysis of childhood polio to live an active life, excel in academics and become — at age 33 — one of the youngest people appointed to the federal bench. "Always be prepared for the unexpected,” he said, “because you'll never know when it will hit you."

Judge Tanya S. Chutkan was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in June 2014. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Joining the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, she worked as a trial attorney and supervisor. Over 11 years, she argued several appellate cases and tried more than 30 cases, including numerous serious felony matters. In 12 years with Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, she specialized in litigation and white collar criminal defense. Her clients included antitrust class action plaintiffs, as well as individual and corporate defendants involved in complex state and federal litigation. From 1996 to 2000, Judge Chutkan was a member of the Steering Committee for the Criminal Law and Individual Rights Section of the District of Columbia Bar. She is a frequent lecturer on trial techniques and has served as a faculty member at the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton of the District of Columbia hasn’t let circumstances or other people define him. A talented football player whose college injury took him out of the game, he discovered his intellectual abilities and rigorously applied them to getting a law degree. As an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. his reputation for diligence and success in the courtroom brought him to the attention of the White House. He was appointed to judgeships by three presidents and named to high-profile public service assignments by two chief justices.

Video available on the JNET