U.S. District Judge Lance E. Walker hugs his daugheters, Ava (left) and Dylan (right), at his Investiture Ceremony Friday afternoon at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor. Walker’s wife, Heidi, is at far left. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

A month after Lance Walker was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be a federal judge, he was assigned the case that could end up being the most important of his career.

At the very least, it will be a long time before Walker presides over a case that draws the media attention U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s challenge to the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in Maine did.

Walker took his oath of office in mid-October but held a formal investiture, also known as a robing ceremony, in Bangor on Friday — the day after he shot down arguments presented by a legal team representing Poliquin and three other 2nd District Republicans.

The event was attended by members of the federal and state benches, attorneys from around the state, and members of Walker’s family.

Walker, 46, of Falmouth replaces U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, who went on active senior status in 2017, creating the vacancy on the federal court bench. Woodcock, a longtime Hampden resident who became a federal judge in 2003, now lives in Portland.

“Following in [Woodcock’s] formidable footsteps, felt a little bit like being a garage band asked to take the stage after the Beatles had opened the show,” Walker said Friday.

Walker began life in Milo, where his father was an engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway until he was in the fifth grade. The family then moved to Dover-Foxcroft, where his parents owned and operated a hardware store and travel agency.

After graduating from Foxcroft Academy in 1990, Walker attended the University of Maine, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, and the University of Maine School of Law.

He was a clerk in 2000 and 2001 to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, during former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Daniel Wathen’s last year on the bench. He then went to work for Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, a Portland law firm.

In early 2014, Gov. Paul LePage appointed Walker to the state District Court bench. Walker was elevated to the Superior Court the next year. In April, President Donald Trump nominated Walker to the federal bench after receiving a joint recommendation from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent.

Speakers at Friday’s ceremony included Wathen, along with Walker’s former colleagues on the state bench and law firm partners.

Wathen, for whom Walker clerked before Wathen left the bench for a brief foray into politics, urged the new judge “to love kindness, seek justice and walk humbly.”
“Judge Herb Silsby [who presided for many years in Ellsworth] used to tell new judges, ‘Grow, but don’t swell,’” Wathen said. “I am confident that Lance Walker will grow but not swell because of his ability to laugh at himself and his roots in small-town Maine. I encourage him to return to Dover-Foxcroft often because that will keep him humble.”

Wathen made the only reference to Walker’s first high-profile case, which brought titters from the packed courtroom.

“A few days into his term, I think he got a hint of the scope of the cases he might handle,” Wathen said.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander praised Walker’s writing skills. He also said that legal service providers had praised how respectfully Walker had worked with people who represented themselves before him in state court.

Walker said that he believed his family in Falmouth and Piscataquis County would help him to remain humble in the job.

U.S. District Court judges are appointed for life. Walker’s salary is $208,000 per year.

Walker’s wife, Heidi, and their two daughters, Ava and Dylan, participated in Friday’s ceremony.