Supporters of California’s Proposition 8 were dealt a blow Tuesday when a federal judge refused their request to throw out Judge Vaughn Walker’s trial court decision because he is in a same-sex relationship.
“The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification," U.S. chief district judge James Ware wrote in a 21-page ruling issued this afternoon.
Judge Walker, Ware wrote, “was not required to recuse himself … on the ground that he was engaged in a long-term same-sex relationship and, thus, could reap speculative benefit from an injunction halting enforcement of Proposition 8 in California. In particular, in a case involving laws restricting the right of various members of the public to marry, any personal interest that a judge gleans as a member of the public who might marry is too attenuated to warrant recusal.”
Judge Ware rejected Prop. 8 supporters’ arguments that Walker had a greater interest in the outcome of the case than the general public: “The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society."
“In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right,” Ware wrote.
During a Monday hearing on the matter, Ware said that Prop. 8 supporters’ motion to vacate Walker’s judgment was the first time that a party had urged a jurist’s disqualification based on sexual orientation. He grilled attorney Charles J. Cooper, who argued that Walker had a duty to disclose his relationship, on what direct evidence existed that Judge Walker sought to marry his partner and thus personally benefit from a verdict favoring marriage equality.
The case is currently on appeal before the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit.
In January, a three-judge panel with the ninth circuit asked the California supreme court whether Prop. 8 supporters who have defended the ballot initiative in court "possess either a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity ... when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so."