Prop. 8 Motion to Vacate Denied

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Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that Judge Vaughn Walker need not have recused himself from the Prop. 8 case because he was in a long-term same-sex relationship. Judge Ware concluded that:

In a case that could affectthe general public based on the circumstances or characteristics of various members of that public,the fact that a federal judge happens to share the same circumstances or characteristic and will onlybe affected in a similar manner because the judge is a member of the public, is not a basis fordisqualifying the judge under Section 455(b)(4).

Judge Ware found that any benefit Judge Walker would have reaped from the ruling was “speculative” and “too attenuated to warrant recusal.” Judge Ware also noted that:

Requiring recusalbecause a court issued an injunction that could provide some speculative future benefit to thepresiding judge solely on the basis of the fact that the judge belongs to the class against whom theunconstitutional law was directed would lead to a Section 455(b)(4) standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases. Congress could not have intended such anunworkable recusal statute.

Judge Ware also rejected the notion that Judge Walker had a greater interest in the case because he is gay:

The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process groundsbeing prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minoritygroup have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In oursociety, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionallybound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawfultreatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of arestriction on a fundamental right.

Interestingly, Judge Ware not only found that Judge Vaughn need not have disclosed his relationship to the parties, but actually argued that it would not have been appropriate to do so:

In fact, the Court observes that Judge Walker, like all judges, had a duty to preserve theintegrity of the judiciary. Among other things, this means that if, in an overabundance of caution, hewere to have disclosed intimate, but irrelevant, details about his personal life that were notreasonably 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.

Unsurprisingly, the Prop. 8 supporters who brought this motion to vacate have indicated their intent to appeal the ruling.

-Tony Infanti

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