“I don’t think it’s relevant. I never thought it was appropriate to recuse myself from that case,” former U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker told a small group of news reporters.
Walker said, “It would not be a positive development if you thought a judge’s sexuality, ethnicity, national origin or gender would prevent a judge from handling a case.
“That would be a slippery slope,” he said.
Walker, 67, retired from the San Francisco-based U.S. District Court for Northern California in February after more than 21 years on the court, including six years as chief judge. A Republican and former business lawyer, he was appointed in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush.
Walker spoke at a meeting with federal court reporters at which he announced he is setting up a private practice focused on alternative dispute resolution procedures such as mediation.
He also commented on his support of allowing cameras in federal courtrooms and on other cases he presided over on issues ranging from national-security wiretapping to computer interface copyrights.
In August, Walker struck down Proposition 8, the state’s voter-approved ban on gay and lesbian marriage, saying that measure violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.
The sponsors of the initiative are seeking to appeal that ruling before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case has taken a detour, however, while the California Supreme Court decides whether the sponsors of a state voter initiative have the standing, or legal right, to defend it on appeal when the state’s governor and attorney general refuse to do so.
At the time of a non-jury trial on the case in January 2010, Walker publicly neither confirmed nor denied being homosexual. Today’s meeting appears to be the first or one of the first times he publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation.
In answer to a question from a reporter about his partner, Walker said his partner is a male doctor who runs a family health clinic. The two have had a relationship for 10 years, he said.
The lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 was filed by two same-sex couples and was randomly assigned to Walker. He noted today that neither the plaintiffs nor the sponsors of the initiative asked him to step down from handling the lawsuit.
Walker said he hoped the case will eventually be decided on the substance of the legal arguments and not just on the standing issue.
“I would like to see that resolved on the merits,” Walker said, although he said he thinks the question of initiative proponents’ right to defend the measure is also an important issue with good arguments on both sides.
At the time of Walker’s nomination to the court, he was opposed by gay-rights groups because he had been a lawyer for the U.S. Olympic Committee in a successful effort to stop a local group from calling its athletic competition the Gay Olympic Games.
That case was based on a federal law that gives the committee control over the use of the word “Olympic.”
Asked whether his views had changed since then, Walker said, “I’m still the same guy.
“I was the ogre of the gay community when I was nominated and the hero when I left (the court),” he said.
But “I think I was right both times,” he said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News