J. Harvie Wilkinson III, 61, was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. From 1982 to 1983, Wilkinson was the number two official in the Justice Department's civil rights office.

Unlike most other leading candidates for the Supreme Court, Wilkinson has not practiced law in the private sector; he has more experience in journalism and teaching.

From 1978 to 1982, he was the editorial page editor of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, and from 1973 to 1978 he was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he received a degree in 1972 before moving on to a clerkship for Justice Lewis F. Powell.

His paper trail is, accordingly, immense. He has written not only legal opinions but also books, speeches and journal articles in which he sketches a self-consciously moderate conservative philosophy. A typical example was a 2003 Virginia Law Review article titled "Why Conservative Jurisprudence Is Compassionate."

Powell, an old family friend, is a role model and mentor for Wilkinson, whose own gentle, courtly manners remind some of the late justice's demeanor.

Wilkinson's rulings have included a 1987 opinion striking down a minority set-aside program for city contractors in Richmond and a 1996 opinion upholding the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay service members.

-- Charles Lane