Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker — who last year ruled that California’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional — was not obligated to disqualify himself from presiding over the the case because he is gay and in a long-term relationship with another man, another federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
Supporters of Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved 2008 ban on gay marriage, speculated that Walker, now retired, may have planned to marry his partner, and that presiding over the case would create a conflict of interest.
Judge James Ware, who succeeded Walker as chief judge and inherited the case, tossed out the proponents motion to vacate, and ruled that “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.”
Key points in Ware’s decision:
“The fact that a federal judge shares a fundamental characteristic with a litigant, or shares membership in a large association
such as a religion, has been categorically rejected by federal courts as a sole basis for requiring a judge to recuse her or himself.”
“Further, such a standard “would come dangerously close to holding that minority judges must disqualify themselves from all major civil rights actions.”
“A well-informed, thoughtful observer would recognize that the mere fact that a judge is in a relationship with another person — whether of the same or the opposite sex — does not ipso facto imply that the judge must be so interested in marrying that person that he would be unable to exhibit the impartiality which, it is presumed, all federal judges maintain … To assume otherwise is to engage in speculation about a judge’s motives and desires on the basis of an unsubstantiated suspicion that the judge is personally biased or prejudiced. Mere speculation of that nature does not trigger the recusal requirements.”
“The Motion to Vacate Judgment on the sole ground of Judge Walker’s same-sex relationship is DENIED.”
“Today, in an historic and forceful decision, U.S. District Court Chief Judge James S. Ware denied anti-marriage forces’ motion to throw out the decision that ruled Prop. 8 unconstitutional,” said Chad Griffin, Board President of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), in a statement.
“He erased all doubt that the Prop. 8 trial was anything but fair and thorough and sent a powerful message that extreme fringe groups cannot strong-arm the law,” said Griffin.
AFER is sole sponsor of the federal court challenge of California’s Proposition 8.