Walter J. Cummings Jr. was born on September 29, 1916, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Lillian Garvy and Walter J. Sr., ex-chairman of the board of the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company, as well as the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee from 1934-1936. After attending Chicago area schools, Walter graduated from Yale University in 1937, and then earned his law degree from Harvard University in 1940. That same year he was admitted to the Illinois bar and joined the staff of the U.S. Solicitor General, where he served until 1946. During that time, Cummings also served as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, 1944-1946.
In 1946, Cummings joined the Chicago law firm Sidley, Austin, Burgess & Smith as a partner. He remained at the firm until 1966, taking his only leave of absence to become solicitor general after President Truman’s December 1, 1952 appointment. Cummings’ short SG service (from December 1952-March 1953) was during the transitional period between the presidencies of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Cummings only appeared several times before the Supreme Court in matters concerning alleged violations of the civil rights of convicts in a Florida prison camp and a question concerning the constitutionality of the emergency strike section of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Cummings was appointed to a judgeship on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in 1966, and subsequently served as chief judge on the 7th circuit from 1981-1986. He was a member of the Joint Committees of Judicial Articles and Uniform Commercial Code. Cummings also acted as the grievance commissioner of the Illinois Supreme Court, member of the U.S. Judicial Confederation, chairman of the Chicago U.S. Circuit Court Judges (1985-1986), as well as the subcommittee on judicial improvements, and chairman of the ad hoc committee on disposition of court records. In his spare time, Walter contributed his expertise to various law schools including Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago as a committee visitors member. His interest in art was reflected in his position as a governing life member of the Arts Institute of Chicago.
Cummings held various positions as a member of the American Bar Association, Illinois Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association. His social club memberships included the Yale Club (New York City), Metropolitan (Washington), the Saddle and Cycle (Chicago), and the Union League.
Walter was married to Therese Farrell Murray (deceased November 1968) on May 18, 1946. The couple had three sons Walter J. III, Keith, and Mark. On April 24, 1999, Walter Cummings passed away at his home in Chicago.