The man who will judge Judge Walker
April 28th, 2011
The Proponents of Proposition 8 have filed two complaints with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The first is that Judge Walker should not have shown a three minute clip of the trial to a class of students or allowed CSPAN to film the presentation from an angle far across the room. Consequently, they are demanding that all copies of the trial be put under lock and key, preferably never to be seen. The Plaintiffs in the case have countered by requesting that the stay on the distribution of the video images be lifted and that the public be allowed to visually experience the case.
The second motion, frankly, a blatant appeal to bigotry.
After Judge Walker retired from the bench, he let it be publicly known that he is a gay man (as has long been assumed) and that he has been in a relationship for ten years. They argue that Judge Walker could personally benefit from a positive outcome for Perry v. Schwarzenegger and, therefore, should have recused himself.
It is, indeed, a long standing assumption that “no man can be a judge in his own case and no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome.” It would be most improper for Judge Walker to have heard a case involving a land dispute in which he was one of the land owners.
But the premise of the Proponents’ arguments is that any gay person in a relationship – and, by extension, any gay person who might ever get in a relationship – has an “interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding,” is one that defines gay people as inherently biased. Their argument is that gay people are, by definition incapable of ruling on cases that impact that class of people.
The district judge who issued this judgment, retired Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, has now disclosed to the press on April 6, 2011, that he is gay and that he has been in a committed relationship for more than 10 years. … The published reports do not address the question whether former Chief Judge Walker and his partner have, or have had, any interest in marriage should the injunction he issued be upheld on appeal.
Given that Chief Judge Walker was in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationship throughout this case (and for many years before the case commenced), it is clear that his “impartiality might reasonably [have been] questioned” from the outset.
Look again at the above. “It is clear”, say the Proponents. But what makes this clear? The “clarity” of Judge Walker’s impartiality lies solely in Judge Walker’s sexual orientation. Their argument, at its base, is nothing other that the ‘reasoning’ that because gay people have an interest in what happens to gay people, that such matters must be determined by others who have no personal experience or personal interest in such matters.
This is a rather peculiar standard. If this were to be applied to other matters, it would preclude African American judges from issues involving matters of racial discrimination. Or, for that matter, were a dispute over the Catholic Church’s interaction with a Synagogue be taken to the level of the Supreme Court, there would be no Justices who could hear the case.
But, as cover for the ugliness of their bigotry (and I don’t use that word freely) much is made of the pretense that it isn’t Walker’s orientation that is at issue, but his relationship. In an insulting – but ironic – turn, the Plaintiffs who are seeking that every image of their presentation in court be hidden from the public now argue that Judge Walker’s personal life be subjected to the greatest level of scrutiny.
Chief Judge Walker thus had a duty to disclose not only the facts concerning his relationship, but also his marriage intentions, for the parties (and the public) were entitled to know whether his waivable conflict was actually a nonwaivable conflict mandating his disqualification. Only if Chief Judge Walker had unequivocally disavowed any interest in marrying his partner could the parties and the public be confident that he did not have a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case in violation of Section 455(b)(4). Because he did not do so when the case was assigned to him, and has not done so since, it must be presumed that he has an interest in marrying his partner and therefore was in fact the “judge in his own case.”
Let’s not be fools. Had Walker been a single man about town, they would have filed the same motion. And, in fact, the Proponents and those funding them have been arguing since the judge was assigned that no gay man should be allowed to hear cases involving discrimination against gay people. That his public disclosure of his orientation included a disclosure of his relationship only gave their argument a sheen of palatability so that their supporters have a pretense of decency.
In twenty years’ time, this motion will be read aloud in courtroom to shocked law students who will feel shame that their profession was ever used to demean a person’s judgment based on their orientation. Out of embarrassment they will laugh at the demand that Walker “unequivocally disavowed any interest in marrying his partner.”
Judge Ware continues the rather strange Republican linkage to this case. Ware, a former military man long affiliated with the Party, has been advanced in most cases by Republican Governors or politicians. His position in the Federal Court system is due to an appointment on August 3, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush.
Based solely on such credentials, Ware would not be a good candidate for supporter of civil equality for gay people.
But this case is not really about Proposition 8; it’s about whether being gay precludes one from ruing on discrimination against gay people. And Ware has a history which may play into his decisions. In April 1996, the San Francisco Chronicle told it this way:
On a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham, Ala., he said, he and his younger brother slipped out of church early and hopped on their bike to go play football. James, 16, was pedaling; 14-year-old Virgil perched on the handlebars.
Suddenly, two white teenage boys on a motor scooter pulled alongside and shouted racial epithets. Then they pulled out a rifle and shot Virgil in the chest, killing him instantly.
Later that day, still numb, James and his family learned that only a few hours before Virgil had been gunned down, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across town had been bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. Four black girls were killed in that tragedy on September 15, 1963 — a date that became a milestone in the civil rights movement. The murder of Virgil Ware also became engraved in that era, his name inscribed on a memorial to those who died during the movement.
The shooting remains a blur to James Ware, but he remembers the anger, then the rage, that overwhelmed him. In the decades since, the fury evolved into a determination to see that Virgil’s death was not in vain.
“It molded me,” Ware says now, “into a person who was hungry for justice.”
The shooting of Virgil Ware is an iconic moment in the struggle for black civil rights. And this retelling of the tale is a reminder of that time, an era in which Virgil’s murderers were never tried.
But there’s one small problem. Judge James Ware is not the same James Ware that was the teenage bicyclist; that James Ware was working in a power plant in Alabama when the article went into print.
And Ware’s lie torpedoed an appointment by Clinton in 1997 to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was withdrawn when the scandal broke. But while he was reprimanded by the Judicial Council of the Northern District Court of California, he was not removed from the bench and his reputation for fairness allowed his career to advance.
It is too early to make any predictions, but perhaps this bump in Ware’s journey may give him some empathy for Walker. He, like Walker, has experienced political excoriation on the floor of the US Senate. He knows what it feels like to be a minority within Republican circles and to consequently be seen as suspect. And as an African American, he may not be particularly receptive to the notion that people who are part of a demographic are unsuited to rule on matters of discrimination against that demographic.
And there are other causes for hope. Ware does appear to have genuinely been involved in the civil rights movement and quite often those who experienced the battle – as opposed to some who have inherited the mantle – see rights and discrimination in terms of oppressor and oppressed. And considering that Judge Ware’s marriage was not recognized in his home state of Alabama prior to 1967, he may intimately know what it is like to be told that it really isn’t discrimination to be denied the right to marry the one you love.
And finally, we know that Ware has in the past demonstrated that he is not an advocate in opposition to equality or decency towards gay people. In 1995, Ware spoke out for a measure that would offer guarantees of job protection for gay employees working in his California judicial circuit. Other judges had opposed the measure, but Ware’s argument won out.