The Porchlight series hosted a storytelling event March 19 at Café Verdi, based around the theme of law and order. The keynote speaker was retired federal Judge Vaughn Walker. According to the Bay Citizen, the “Silver Fox” brought down the house.
Walker has become one of American society’s more unusual figures: The celebrity judge. There aren’t many of them. There’s Lance Ito, of O.J. Simpson fame. There’s Earl Warren, or William Rehnquist, or Anthony Kennedy, the supposed swing justice upon whom Obama-care will or will not pass muster in the U.S. Supreme Court. There are even judges who get to star in their own TV shows.
But even among this rare species, Walker stands out. He presided over the challenge to Proposition 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.
Walker ruled that the amendment violated the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples, and decreed that the amendment was invalid. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, which means the case will almost surely be seen by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Throughout the trial, proponents of Prop. 8 repeated the same theme. Walker is gay. Of course he will find in favor of Prop. 8 opponents. And of course, he will find a legal rationale to back up the ruling he wants in his heart.
“What you have is one judge who thinks he knows — and a district-level judge and an openly homosexual judge at that — who says he knows better than not only 7 million voters in the state of California, but voters in 30 states across the nation,” said Tony Perkins, the spokesman of the Family Research Council.
On both the left and the right, Walker has become the “gay judge.” To supporters of same-sex marriage, he fought the good fight. To opponents of same-sex marriage, he set aside legal principles to find a way to advance the gay agenda.
But for almost all of his career, Walker was loathed by liberal lawyers. Walker was first appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and President George H.W. Bush finally got him on the bench.
Prior to Prop. 8, Walker’s most-storied case involved the systematic pepper-spray torture of Earth First! protesters by Humboldt County sheriff’s deputies. Walker, who was then regarded as a libertarianproperty-rights absolutist, ruled against the protesters.
Once the Prop. 8 case fell into his lap, Walker became defined by his sexuality, despite a lifetime of rulings that fell largely into the camp of the conservative movement.
Walker has since retired, and his legacy will almost surely be defined by the coincidence that he was gay, and that he presided over the challenge to Prop. 8. But Walker is a living, breathing example of post-gay culture, in which homosexuals are no longer defined by their sexual orientation. Walker is, in short, a jurist.
When Walker took the stage March 19, he told a quick story about a plaintiffs’ attorney who stole from his clients. He concluded with a mild, almost banal imprecation to report for jury duty. Nothing says how far the gay-rights movement has come quite as much as this ordinary event.