Court Affirms Prop. 8 Judge’s Verdict
A federal judge found on June 14 that former Judge Vaughn Walker was not obligated to disclose the fact that he was in a long-term relationship with another man at the time the legal challenge to Proposition 8 landed on his docket.
With that finding, the judge also declined to vacate Walker’s finding that Proposition 8 had violates the Constitutional rights of California same-sex married couples, whose right to wed was rescinded by the narrowly-approved 2008 ballot initiative that amended the California constitution and barred access to marriage by gay and lesbian families.
Judge Walker had made a point to say that he ruled against Proposition 8’s backers because the facts presented in court did not prove their case.
But when Walker earlier this year disclosed publicly that he is gay and in a long-term relationship, backers of the anti-gay measure went to court to try to overturn the verdict, arguing that Walker and his same-sex life partner might have benefited directly from Walker’s verdict if they had any intention of marrying.
The Prop. 8 proponents said that Walker should have either disclosed his status as a gay man and his relationship, or else recused himself from the case.
U.S. District Court Judge James Ware disagreed in his verdict, reported the Los Angeles Times on June 14.
"It is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings," Ware’s finding read in part.
The fact that Walker is gay "gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits that would exist for any other judge or citizen," Ware’s decision added.
The finding addressed the issue of whether, and how much, judges should be required to disclose about their private lives if presiding over cases that could be construed as having some level of personal meaning to them. Prop 8 Trial Tracker posted additional excerpts from the ruling.
"[T]he Court observes that Judge Walker, like all judges, had a duty to preserve the integrity of the judiciary," wrote Ware. "Among other things, this means that if, in an overabundance of caution, he were to have disclosed intimate, but irrelevant, details about his personal life that were not reasonably related to the question of disqualification, he could have set a pernicious precedent.
"Such a precedent would be detrimental to the integrity of the judiciary, because it would promote, incorrectly, disclosure by judges of highly personal information (e.g., information about a judge’s history of being sexually abused as a child), however irrelevant or time-consuming," added the opinion.
"Contrary to the intent of Section 455, which was designed to preserve judicial integrity through practices of transparency, it is clear that fostering the practice of commencing a judicial proceeding with an extensive exploration into the history and psyche of the presiding judge would produce the spurious appearance that irrelevant personal information could impact the judge’s decision-making, which would be harmful to the integrity of the courts."
Ware went on to reject any claim that Vaughn’s verdict should be tossed on the theory that, being a gay man in a long-term relationship, he and his partner must necessarily have wanted to avail themselves of marriage, and therefore Walker’s verdict would have been issued from personal bias.
"[T]he presumption that ’all people in same-sex relationships think alike’ is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning," wrote Ware.
"The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief," Ware’s opinion continued.