Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has denied a motion to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling overturning California’s gay marriage ban Proposition 8, saying that Vaughn Walker having since revealed he was in a same-sex relationship at the time of the trial is not reason enough to presume his impartiality was compromised.
Lawyers supporting Proposition 8 argued that Walker had a vested interest in the outcome of the trial and should have recused himself.
In his ruling Ware refutes this saying that Walker has no greater interest in upholding a basic principle of constitutional fairness than any other member of the public, and where he could have stood to gain by overturning the ban and eventually marrying his partner, he has at no point stated an intent to marry, and there was no proof offered by the defense that he desired to do so, and as such a presumptive benefit is too speculative to warrant the ruling being vacated or disqualified.
“After considering the Oppositions to the Motion and the governing law, as discussed below, the Court finds that neither recusal nor disqualification was required based on the asserted grounds,” Ware writes.
“The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification under Section 455(b)(4). Further, under Section 455(a), 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. Accordingly, the Motion to Vacate Judgment on the sole ground of Judge Walker’s same-sex relationship is DENIED.”
The legal opinion contained a few pointed responses to the defendant-intervenor’s arguments, including this: “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.”
Ware appears particularly critical of this line of reasoning, going on to say: “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 said that this standard, if it were to be applied uniformly, placed an “unfair burden” on minority judges who would have to be necessarily disqualified from a host of cases.
Perhaps most interesting was Ware’s strong objection to the defendant-intervenor’s contention that a judge is duty-bound to disclose any and all qualities or experiences that may be even remotely relevant to the trial. Ware writes in his ruling: “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.”
To read the ruling in full, please click here.
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