Whalen: Vacate Walker's Proposition 8 Decision

Ed Whalen is back with another nonsensical article, arguing in the National Review that since Judge Vaughn Walker, who was appointed by George H. W. Bush, is openly gay, his decision to overturn Proposition 8 should be vacated and he should have been disqualified from ruling on the case in the first place. Using Whalen’s logic, white judges should be barred from ruling on cases involving white people, female judges should not be allowed to rule on cases involving women, and Jewish judges should be prohibited from ruling on cases involving Jews or Judaism:

In taking part in the Perry case, Judge Walker was deciding whether Proposition 8 would bar him and his same-sex partner from marrying. Whether Walker had any subjective interest in marrying his same-sex partner — a matter on which Walker hasn’t spoken — is immaterial under section 455(a). (If Walker did have such an interest, his recusal also would be required by other rules requiring that a judge disqualify himself when he knows that he has an “interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”) Walker’s own factual findings explain why a reasonable person would expect him to want to have the opportunity to marry his partner: A reasonable person would think that Walker would want to have the opportunity to take part with his partner in what “is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States.” A reasonable person would think that Walker would want to decrease the costs of his same-sex relationship, increase his wealth, and enjoy the physical and psychological benefits that marriage is thought to confer.



Now that Walker has finally disclosed facts that would have warranted his disqualification from Perry, the appropriate remedy is for the Ninth Circuit — or, if necessary, the Supreme Court — to vacate Walker’s judgment upon a request by Prop 8 proponents. As the Supreme Court ruled more than two decades ago in Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp. (1988), where a district judge has violated section 455(a) by deciding a case that he should have disqualified himself from, it is “appropriate to vacate the judgment unless it can be said that [the losing party] did not make a timely request for relief, or that it would otherwise be unfair to deprive the prevailing party of its judgment.” In that case, the losing party did not learn of the facts requiring disqualification until ten months after the court of appeals had affirmed the district court’s judgment, so the question was whether the judgment that had become final on appeal should nonetheless be set aside. The Court found the request for relief to be timely, as the delay was attributable to the judge’s failure to disclose the facts requiring disqualification. A request now by Prop 8 proponents to vacate Walker’s judgment would indisputably be timely (and would clearly not involve any unfairness to the Perry plaintiffs), as the appeal on the merits is still pending, and Walker has only now revealed the information requiring his disqualification.