Ryan Walsh, '12: Serving the Public by Emulating Influential Mentors

Ryan Walsh
Ryan Walsh, '12

As the chief deputy solicitor general of the state of Wisconsin, Ryan Walsh, ’12, has an essential role in defending the state’s legislative actions and criminal prosecutions in state and federal courts of appeal, including at the US Supreme Court. Among the cases currently being addressed by the solicitor general’s office are ones related to voting requirements, right-to-work laws, eminent domain rules, agency deference issues, and the creation of legislative districts. In addition to briefing and arguing some of those cases himself, Walsh helps oversee work carried out by three deputies and one assistant.

“I grew up in Wisconsin, in a place that was so small that it didn’t meet the 300-person requirement for being incorporated as a town,” Walsh said. “I have a deep regard for this state and its people, and I am honored to be able to serve them.”

He comes to the position well prepared for appellate argument, having excelled at the Law School before undertaking clerkships with Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia at the US Supreme Court, and working as an associate in the issues and appeals practice at Jones Day. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine named Walsh as one of the up-and-coming “30 under 30” in American law and public policy.

Walsh said that Justice Scalia exemplified a quality that he strives to embody: “As I told the Wall Street Journal law blog after the justice’s death, he was the real deal. To him, the law wasn’t politics, it wasn’t some kind of contest of wills, and it wasn’t about enacting personal biases—the law was the law. He was always exceptionally conscientious about ensuring that his decisions were consistent with his jurisprudential philosophy.”

Scalia encouraged forceful arguments against his positions when his clerks disagreed with him, Walsh said, and it was not unusual for the justice to change his view of a case as a result of those arguments. “It was like the culture of the Law School,” Walsh observed, “where intense discussion of hard issues was not just welcomed but actively encouraged. I remember an administrator describing the Law School’s ethos to me by saying, ‘You’re only as good as your last good idea,’ and I think that captures the school’s unrelenting insistence on bringing your very best to everything you do. I continue to benefit from the Law School’s culture.”

Walsh—who got married before he came the Law School and became a father for the first time while he was there (he and his wife now have four children)—thrived at the Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Law Review, was selected as a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, received a Lynde and Harry Bradley Student Fellowship, and was elected to the Order of the Coif. 

He says that the unwavering commitment to adhering to the law that he saw in Justice Scalia was also a powerful presence in his Court of Appeals clerkship: “Judge O’Scannlain would often find himself outnumbered in the en banc battles that were pretty common at the Ninth Circuit, but he made a point of playing the long game, registering his dissents to decisions and to denials of en banc rehearings in a way that helped shape the long-term development of the law throughout the country.”

Walsh also enjoyed his time at Jones Day. “The practice group that I was in is full of extremely bright, down-to-earth people who share a passion for the law,” he said. “Several UChicago grads at Jones Day, such as Noel Francisco [’96] and Kevin Marshall [’98], were real mentors to me.”

Walsh is a political appointee, and the attorney general he serves under will stand for reelection in 2018. “I’m hoping to be here for a long time,” Walsh said, “but however long I am privileged to serve, I’m hoping to apply everything I have learned to advance the interests of the people of Wisconsin as they have been expressed through its elected representatives.”