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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Court Denies Attempt to Disqualify Gay Judge

Opponents of marriage equality suffered a defeat today when their bigoted attempt to disqualify the judge who decided the Prop 8 case failed. Judge Ware, Chief Judge for the Northern District of California, denied the motion to disqualify Judge Vaughn Walker on the basis that he is gay. They argued that Walker should have been forbidden from hearing the case on the grounds that his sexual orientation constituted a conflict of interest.

Rejecting this argument, Judge Ware held that:

[T]he presumption that “all people in same-sex relationships think alike” is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. 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.

Alliance for Justice applauds the denial of the recusal motion. The effort to disqualify Judge Walker, while misguided, highlights the importance of having disqualification motions decided by an uninterested judge. Currently, Supreme Court Justices are allowed to make their own decisions on when to step aside from a case. If a case before the Court could create a conflict of interest for one of the justices, he or she makes the decision whether or not to recuse, without being required to disclose his or her reasoning, and the parties in the case have no recourse for appealing that decision.

It is only right that we expect the justices of the Supreme Court to be subject to the same ethical standards to which we hold Judge Walker and every other federal judge.

Alliance for Justice is engaged in an ongoing effort, supported by more than 135 of America's most prominent legal ethicists, to press for mandatory ethical standards and a review process for recusal decisions by Supreme Court justices.

Visit AFJ's website for more information on Supreme Court ethics reform.

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