A native of Jersey City, New Jersey, Walter E. Hoffman graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in 1928 where future U. S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. was a classmate. After beginning his study of the law at the College of William and Mary, Hoffman transferred to Washington and Lee University School of Law. A former football lineman -- he was known as "Beef" to friends and colleagues -- Hoffman was able to defray his law school expenses by serving as line coach at W&L. He graduated in 1931 in the same class as a second future Supreme Court Justice -- Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
Hoffman practiced law in Norfolk, Virginia and rose to prominence in the state Republican Party. In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed Hoffman to a vacancy on the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He served on that court for over forty years, still enjoying senior judge status when he died on November 21, 1996. Best remembered for presiding over Vice President Agnew's 1973 tax evasion trial, Hoffman's finest moments on the bench may have been his rulings to implement the Supreme Court's mandated school desegregation.
Of his many accomplishments and accolades, the two of which he was most proud were his "rocket docket" administrative system that made the Eastern District one of the most efficient federal courts in the country, and the Edward J. Devitt Award for Distinguished Service to Justice in 1984. In 1983, the federal courthouse in Norfolk was named in his honor. In 1993, W&L law alumni from the Tidewater area instituted the Walter E. Hoffman Scholarship in Law.