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LDS Judge J. Clifford Wallace Celebrates 50 Year Judicial Career


Now-retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, left, with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, center, presenting Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace, right, with the American Judicature Society’s Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award in 2006.


San Diego, CA: On November 5, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Courts recognized Chief Judge Emeritus J. Clifford Wallace for his extraordinary 50-year judicial career with an exclusive article published on the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit website. The article highlights his career and recognizes the significant contributions he has made and continues to make on the Ninth Circuit bench. Still today, at 91 years old, Judge Wallace takes half of a full caseload as a senior circuit judge.


Judge Wallace was born and raised in San Diego, CA where he attended San Diego State College, now San Diego State University, graduating in 1952 with honors in Economics. He then received his law degree in 1955 from the University of California, Berkley School of Law.

After 15 years in private practice with Gray Carey Ames & Frye, Judge Wallace was offered his first Judgeship. On October 16, 1970 he accepted a commission as a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of California, thus beginning his 50-year judicial career as a federal judge. He rose to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 28, 1972 and became the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be appointed as a judge to a United States Court of Appeals in America. He later served as chief judge of the Ninth Circuit from 1991-1996, after which he took senior status and has continued to work on behalf of the court.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, now retired, who has been friends with Judge Wallace for many years, said “His scholarship and dedication to the rule of law has been important for the Ninth Circuit, for the judges and attorneys in that circuit, and for the rest of the judges in the United States, but also, and this is unique, he has inspired those who love the rule of law around the world.

“Some years ago, when my travels took me to Bangkok, Thailand, we passed a certain building, and I asked, what is that building? They answered that that was the building that Judge Wallace had constructed to educate the judiciary. This was in Bangkok. He brought the rule of law, the idea of justice, the ideal of the dignity of judicial service halfway around the world, and he did it in other places around the world. There has been no judge, in my experience, in this country or any other country that has done as much as he has.”

Kennedy added. “We enjoyed talking together about cases, about court administration, about how we could better perform our duties as judges. We became close, close friends. Every time he calls, it’s as if his face, smile and friendliness are in front of me. He always makes my day just by those calls. That is why it is a pleasure for Mary and me to congratulate and thank him. He has been a pillar of the rule of law, not just in the United States, but worldwide. He has been an inspiration and has made a difference, and I hope he continues to do so for many, many more years.”

Judge Wallace is zealous about enlightening minds with respect to the rule of law and the administration of justice. He developed the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific as well as structures for judicial administration around the world. He has worked with over 70 judiciaries worldwide helping them improve their judiciaries and govern according to the rule of law. Judge Wallace said, “As soon as I am able to fly again, I will be traveling to countries that have asked me to assist in various projects which will make their judiciaries more effective and assist in strengthening the rule of law. For example, next year, I have already prepared for eight projects if I am able to fly. Perhaps the most significant is beginning the work that may well lead to a Conference of Chief Justices of the Middle East.”

Chief judge and longtime friend of Judge Wallace, Sidney R. Thomas, noted, “I have worked closely with Judge Wallace on matters of judicial administration from the time I first joined the Court. He has been a mentor and a close friend. He has had an enormous and positive impact on the administration of justice in the West. The breadth of his accomplishments in the field of judicial administration—both in the United States and abroad—is simply astonishing.”

As an educator, Judge Wallace created a course in judicial administration that was taught at BYU School of Law in 1982, at Salzburg, Austria, in 1985, and at the Institute on International and Comparative Law, King’s College London, in 1987.

With his many years of service on the bench and work establishing programs to advance jurisprudence, Judge Wallace gives sound advice to all judges, “I think all of us have to remember that our role as a judge is not to change the country, which is the responsibility of the political branches, but our duty under Article III of the Constitution is to interpret objectively the meaning of the Constitution and governing statutes, and to provide prompt decisions.”

Judge Wallace adds, “There is something that I learned that has made me very content with my judicial life in the case decisions and even more importantly with my work in structural development – judicial administration. When we leave this mortal existence, we will not be long remembered. But our work, if done for the right reason, will hopefully have a positive influence on future generations. The best advice given to me, by Harold B. Lee (a past President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was: ‘There is no end in the amount of good you can do if you do not care who gets the credit.’”

To learn more about Judge Wallace, click here to read the article published on the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit website. Judge J Clifford Wallace Celebrates 50 Years on the Bench

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