Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.
(San Francisco, CA, June 13, 2011)—Today, Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard arguments on a motion to invalidate former U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8.
After a three-week trial last year, Judge Walker ruled in a 135-page decision that Prop 8, the 2008 amendment to the California Constitution that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples, violates the United States Constitution. In April 2011, supporters of Prop 8 filed a motion to invalidate Judge Walker’s decision, claiming that Judge Walker, who has since retired, should have declined to hear the case because he is gay and in a long-term relationship with another man. Last month, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Northern California and Equality California filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the motion. The groups argued that the Prop 8 supporters’ motion closely parallels long-discredited attempts to disqualify judges based on irrelevant characteristics such as race, sex, or religion. The brief attacked the Prop 8 supporters’ claim that no gay, lesbian, or bisexual judge could ever impartially preside over a case involving the rights of same-sex couples—an offensive suggestion that courts have consistently rejected in similar cases involving race and sex discrimination.
Judge Ware announced at the end of the hearing that he intends to issue a written ruling in the next 24 hours. If Judge Ware finds that Judge Walker was able to rule impartially on the constitutional challenge to Prop 8, Judge Walker’s decision in Perry vs. Brown will remain valid, although the appeal of that ruling will continue.
Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:
“Today’s hearing made it crystal clear that the Prop 8 proponents’ central claim—that Judge Walker should have recused himself from the case because he is in a same-sex relationship—is absolutely baseless. During the hearing, Judge Ware pointedly asked the attorney for the proponents whether an African-American judge would have to recuse himself from a race discrimination case because some people might view him as biased. As Judge Ware’s question artfully showed, our legal system does not assume that judges who are in the majority with respect to their race, religion, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic are the only ones who can be unbiased. Judges take an oath to be impartial and do their job faithfully. It is outrageous and offensive to suggest that a gay judge is incapable of fulfilling that vow, or that Judge Walker did not do so in this case. We are hopeful that the ruling will dismiss this bigoted attempt to discredit Judge Walker’s eminently sound ruling that concluded correctly, after weeks of trial and months of careful consideration, that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.”
Today’s hearing also included argument on a motion by Prop 8’s supporters to force the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return their copies of the video recordings of the trial. Judge Ware announced that he intends to issue a written ruling denying that motion and permitting the lawyers to keep the tapes.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.