Walter B. Scates was born on January 18, 1808, in South Boston, Virginia. He moved with his parents to Kentucky in 1809. In 1831 he moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, and was admitted to the bar in 1833. In 1836 he moved to Vandalia, Illinois, and in December of that year, the state legislature elected him judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. Scates resigned in 1841, when the legislature appointed him to the Illinois Supreme Court, after it expanded the court from four to nine members. Each of the nine justices presided over a circuit court, and Justice Scates was assigned to the Third Judicial Circuit. He resigned from the bench in 1847, and moved to Chicago. He served as a delegate to the 1848 Illinois Constitutional Convention. Elected to the supreme court in 1853, Scates became chief justice in 1855, and resigned from the bench two years later. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Scates served in the military, and in 1862, he was commissioned a major on General John A. McClernand’s staff, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier-general. Scates declined President Lincoln’s offer of the New Mexico Territory governorship. From 1866 to 1869, Scates served as collector of customs for the port of Chicago. He resumed the practice of law in Chicago in 1870 and continued until his death on October 26, 1886, in Evanston, Illinois.