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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gay jurist in Proposition 8 case had no legal obligation to remove himself, judge rules

Judge Vaughn R. WalkerA federal judge on Tuesday refused to invalidate last year's ruling against Proposition 8, deciding the gay jurist who overturned the same-sex marriage ban had no obligation to step aside because of a possible conflict of interest.
The decision by Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco left the ruling by retired Judge Vaughn R. Walker in place. Walker’s decision remains on hold pending a separate appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Walker, 67, an openly gay judge, told reporters after he retired in February that he and his partner, a physician, have been together for 10 years. ProtectMarriage, the proponent of Proposition 8, said Walker should have disclosed that prior to trial, and it asked Ware to throw out his ruling.
Proponents of Proposition 8 argued that Walker's conflict was not his sexual orientation, but the fact that he was in a serious same-sex relationship that could conceivably lead to marriage.
Walker, a Republican appointee, has never said publicly whether he wished to marry his partner. But he told reporters that he never considered his sexual orientation grounds for declining to preside over the Proposition 8 challenge.
"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," Ware wrote in his ruling.
Tuesday's ruling followed a three-hour hearing Monday in San Francisco in which backers of Proposition 8 argued that Walker had a personal stake in the outcome of the marriage debate while opponents of the ban countered that the challenge was a veiled attack on Walker's sexual orientation.
No court has ever upheld the removal of a judge from a civil rights case because of his or her race, religion or gender, according to lawyers in the case.

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