The judge was not indicted for using his influence to have drug charges dropped against the son of his business partner, but rather for lying about it to a grand jury.1

Judge Walter Nixon2
The Fifth Circuit judge was impeached May 10, 1989 and removed from office November 3, 1989

Walter Louis Nixon (b. 1928) graduated from Tulane University Law School in 1951 and entered into private practice in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. He served in the U.S. Air Force for a period between 1953 and 1955.

In 1968, Nixon (no relation to former U.S. president, Richard Nixon) was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi and was confirmed by the Senate on June 6th of that year. He became Chief Judge of the District Court in 1982.

In 1989, Judge Nixon was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and removed from office by the U.S. Senate for committing perjury before a grand jury.

The offense stemmed from his grand jury testimony and statements to federal officers concerning his intervention in the state's drug prosecution of Drew Fairchild, the son of Wiley Fairchild, a business partner of Nixon's.

Although the Fairchild case had been assigned to a state court, Wiley Fairchild asked Nixon to help his son by using his influence with the prosecutor, a long-time friend of the judge's. The prosecutor obliged by dropping the case against Drew Fairchild.

When Nixon was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice about the incident, he denied any involvement; and when a federal grand jury was subsequently empaneled to investigate allegations of improper conduct, he again denied his involvement.

Nixon was finally convicted of making false statements to a grand jury and was sentenced to prison, although he continued to collect his judicial salary pending an appeal.

Nixon appealed his removal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), which rejected the appeal as a nonjusticiable political question. His impeachment for perjury would later be cited as a precedent in the impeachment proceedings of President Bill Clinton.

Nixon was disbarred in 1990, but the State Supreme Court later ruled that he could be readmitted to the bar upon retaking the state bar exam. In 1993, he returned to the private practice of law in Biloxi, and in 1998 moved his practice to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The federal courts were established as an independent third branch of government by Article III of the Constitution, which provides for a Supreme Court and "such inferior courts" as Congress deems necessary. Congress established federal district and circuit courts with the Judiciary Act of 1789. A major reform of the system occurred in 1891 with the Circuit Court Act, which established a permanent appellate court for each circuit. Today, the 94 federal district courts are grouped into 12 circuits, each with its own court of appeals [3].

Since the establishment of the courts, 13 judges have been impeached. Of those, seven were removed from the bench, two resigned and four were acquitted [4].

The judge who nearly became the 14th impeached judge was Fifth Circuit Judge Robert Collins, who had been convicted of bribery.  Collins escaped impeachment by resigning from office before impeachment proceedings began [5].

The candidate most likely to be the 14th impeached judge is Fifth Circuit Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr., who was not convicted of a crime, but who was recommended for removal by the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit for egregious misconduct that included receiving gifts from attorneys who came before him, filing false statements in his personal bankruptcy case, and engaging in fraudulent and deceptive conduct concerning his debts and gambling losses [5].

  1. Judges have immunity for their conduct involving judicial matters and are not obliged to be truthful (or honest) unless under oath, as with a grand jury or other circumstance requiring a sworn statement.

  2. Wikipedia, "Walter Nixon,", accessed 09/13/08.  See also: "Nixon, Walter Louis Jr.," Judges of the United States Courts,, accessed 09/13/08.

  3. United States Courts, Second Circuit Report, 2005,", accessed 09/13/08.

  4. Wikipedia, "Impeachment in the United States,", accessed 09/13/08.  See also: "Impeachments of Federal Judges," Federal Judicial History | Impeachments of Federal Judges,, accessed 09/13/08.

  5. Richard Rainey, "Ouster fight starts for U.S. judge; Complaints against Porteous passed on," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 21, 2007, National, p. 1.

Text on Judge Nixon adapted from: Wikipedia, "Walter Nixon,", accessed 09/13/08.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.