A federal judge in San Francisco said today he hopes to rule quickly–possibly within 24 hours–on a bid by sponsors of Proposition 8 to have him nullify another judge’s decision overturning the ban on same-sex marriage.
“I understand this is an important case,” U.S. District Judge James Ware told attorneys after hearing two hours of arguments on the issue.
“It is my intent to give you a written decision quickly … so that you can move beyond this and go back to other matters,” Ware said.
The sponsors of the voter initiative claim the original judge, now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, had a conflict of interest because he has had a 10-year relationship with another man and might want to get married.
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for the Proposition 8 sponsors, argued that Walker had an obligation to disclose his relationship and to say whether he wanted to marry.
“That is a fact clearly relevant,” Cooper argued.
Walker ruled last year that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. That ruling is now on appeal, but Proposition 8 supporters have meanwhile claimed that Walker should have been disqualified from hearing the case.
After retiring, Walker disclosed this spring that he has a longtime gay partner, but has never commented on whether he wants to marry.
Ware noted that there is no direct evidence that Walker was interested in getting married.
Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for two couples who sued to block Proposition 8, argued that Walker is really being challenged simply because he is gay and said it is unfair to question his integrity.
The motion is “frivolous, deeply offensive and unfortunate,” Boutrous told the judge.
“We assume that all federal judges will decide cases based on the law no matter what their background,” Boutrous said.
Ware questioned the attorneys about a federal rule that requires disqualification of a judge if a reasonable person would reasonably question a judge’s impartiality.
“Does the standard allow bias and prejudice to play a part? Can you be reasonable and biased?” he asked.
Both attorneys answered that bigotry should not be part of the definition of a reasonable person.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News