Judge Won’t Vacate Prop 8 Decision, Rejects Argument that Gay Judge was Biased

Yesterday, proponents of California’s Proposition 8 went before a federal judge to argue that the ruling overturning the discriminatory law should be thrown out because the judge who issued it is gay.

Today, they were handed an epic takedown. In an order dismissing the motion to vacate the Prop 8 case, district court judge James Ware tore apart the arguments made by the anti-marriage equality lawyers who claimed that Judge Vaughn Walker’s decade-long same-sex relationship should have disqualified him from hearing the marriage equality case.

The arguments made by Prop 8’s defenders were so ridiculous (for example, see here and here) that it’s hard to pick just one part of Judge Ware’s takedown to quote, so I’ve picked out a few of my favorites.

The Prop 8 camp’s main line of argument was that the problem with Judge Walker wasn’t that he is gay but that he may at some point want to marry someone of the same sex, thereby benefiting from his own pro-marriage equality decision. This led them to partake in some celebrity-magazine style speculation about whether Judge Walker was planning to wed. Judge Ware responds that that type of speculation about a judge’s personal life isn’t enough to disqualify him from a case:

[D]isqualifying Judge Walker based on an inference that he intended to take advantage of a future legal benefit made available by constitutional protections would result in an unworkable standard for disqualification. Under such a standard, disqualification would be based on assumptions about the amorphous personal feelings of judges in regards to such intimate and shifting matters as future desire to undergo an abortion, to send a child to a particular university or to engage in family planning. So too here, a test inquiring into the presiding judge’s desire to enter into the institution of marriage with a member of the same sex, now or in the future, would require reliance upon similarly elusive factors.

Then there was the argument that Judge Walker’s long-term same-sex relationship “gave him a markedly greater interest in a case challenging restrictions on same-sex marriage than the interest held by the general public.” Judge Ware responds that in cases of fundamental rights, all members of society are affected by the outcome…in a way, turning the logic of the Prop 8 crowd (who argue that straight people will be hurt by gay marriage) on its head:

The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right. One of the duties placed on the shoulders of federal judges is the obligation to review the law to determine when unequal treatment violates our Constitution and when it does not. To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally. Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case. The single characteristic that Judge Walker shares with the Plaintiffs, albeit one that might not have been shared with the majority of Californians, gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits than would exist for any other judge or citizen.

And then Judge Ware tells Prop 8 supporters that not all gay people think in the same way…so they can’t assume that a gay judge will come to a certain conclusion:

Finally, the presumption that “all people in same-sex relationships think alike” is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. 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. On the contrary: it is reasonable to presume that a female judge or a judge in a same-sex relationship is capable of rising above any personal predisposition and deciding such a case on the merits. The Motion fails to cite any evidence that Judge Walker would be incapable of being impartial, but to presume that Judge Walker was incapable of being impartial, without concrete evidence to support that presumption, is inconsistent with what is required under a reasonableness standard.

Ware concludes that requiring judges to recuse themselves under the standard proposed by Prop 8’s backers would lead to a “standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases.”
 

PFAW