U.S. district chief judge Vaughn R. Walker, who in a landmark August decision ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional, will retire from the bench in February, the court has announced.
In a late Wednesday press release, officials with the U.S. district court for the northern district of California said Judge Walker will
step down as chief judge effective December 31 and will leave the court in February. Walker has notified President Barack Obama of his decision.
“Concluding twenty‐one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system," Walker wrote to Obama.
Walker ruled on August 4 that California's Proposition 8, passed by voters in 2008, violated both the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay
men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Walker wrote in a
136-page opinion deemed by many legal observers to be both straightforward and
breathtaking in its scope.
A President George H.W. Bush appointee to the federal bench in 1990, Walker, 66, was hailed by marriage equality activists for his systematic dismantling of Prop. 8 and reviled by anti-gay marriage groups, including the National Organization for Marriage, which dubbed him a "biased judge" who issued "a horrendous decision."
Shortly after Walker released his decision striking down Prop. 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, co-lead plaintiffs' attorney David Boies said of the judge's critics, "They're going to attack everything they can think of to attack except
the court's opinion. Because I guarantee you that the people that you
hear criticizing this opinion are not going to be prepared to deal with
what the opinion has found.
"Because what this opinion does is it goes through ... in a thorough,
careful, methodical way, what all the claims were and what all the
evidence was, and the court concluded that there simply is no evidence
to justify the invidious discrimination against some of our citizens
based on sex and sexual orientation," Boies continued. "And that is something that the
other side cannot deal with."
The court's press release, in full:
SAN FRANCISCO — The United States District Court for the Northern District of California announces today that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker will step down as chief judge effective December 31, 2010. Also, Chief Judge Walker notified President Obama by letter today that he will leave the court in February 2011.
Chief Judge Walker has been a United States District Judge since February 5, 1990 and has served as chief judge of the court since September 1, 2004. Before becoming a federal judge, Chief Judge Walker was a litigation partner at the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Upon leaving the federal bench, Chief Judge Walker plans to return to the private sector.
In his letter to the President, Chief Judge Walker said: “Concluding twenty‐one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system.”
By statute, United States district chief judges are selected based on a combination of age, seniority and experience and may serve in the post for a maximum of seven years. 28 USC § 136. By application of this statute, District Judge James Ware will assume the post of chief judge of the Northern District on January 1, 2011.