Friday, August 13, 2010

Gay marriage, gay judge, and bias in the courtroom.

The three appear to have met up in the recent Prop 8 court decision by US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker who in an incredibly expansive decision ruled California's marriage amendment, Prop 8, unconstitutional.

It turns out that Judge Walker also misrepresented the defense counsel or as court observer Ed Whelan says used "distortions and falsehoods."

Among the many distortions and falsehoods that Judge Vaughn Walker has tried to propagate through his anti-Prop 8 ruling is his claim that the Prop 8 proponents—who intervened as defendants in the case and valiantly carried out the role of defending Prop 8 when the state defendants abandoned their duties to do so—“failed to build a credible factual record to support their claim that Proposition 8 served a legitimate government interest.” (Slip op. at 11.) Walker’s claim, which many in the media evidently unfamiliar with the case have parroted, operates to divert attention from the manifest bias that he exhibited throughout the case and that pervades his ruling. But in fact the Prop 8 proponents offered a thorough case that Walker almost entirely ignored—a case resting on a broad array of judicial authority, recognized scholarship in various academic fields, extensive documentary evidence, and elementary common sense.

Here are some examples.

One stark illustration of Walker’s massive distortion on this broader matter is his assertion (slip op. at 9-10) that “When asked [during closing arguments] to identify the evidence at trial that supported [the] contention [that ‘responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage’], proponents’ counsel [Charles Cooper] replied, ‘you don’t have to have evidence of this point.’” The clear—and utterly misleading—implication that Walker tries to leave through his grossly out-of-context quotation is that the Prop 8 proponents did not offer meaningful (indeed, overwhelming) evidence and other authority on this point. And plaintiffs’ counsel Ted Olson has compounded the falsehood with irresponsible public statements like this (from his interview on “Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace”):

In fact, they [Prop 8 proponents] said during the course of the trial they didn’t need to prove anything, they didn’t have any evidence, they didn’t need any evidence.

1. Let’s begin by putting Cooper’s statement in its proper context:

At the closing argument in June, Cooper began by stating that “the historical record leaves no doubt … that the central purpose of marriage in virtually all societies and at all times has been to channel potentially procreative sexual relationships into enduring stable unions to increase the likelihood that any offspring will be raised by the man and woman who brought them into the world.” (3028: 13-19.) Cooper cited numerous Supreme Court (and other) cases that reflect this understanding. (3027-3028.)

When Cooper stated that “the evidence shows overwhelmingly that … responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage” (3038:5-8), Walker asked, “What was the witness who offered the testimony? What was it and so forth?” (3038:14-15.) Cooper began his response:

The evidence before you shows that sociologist Kingsley Davis, in his words, has described the universal societal interest in marriage and definition as social recognition and approval of a couple engaging in sexual intercourse and marrying and rearing offspring.

Cooper then cited Blackstone’s statements—which were also in evidence submitted at the trial—that the relation of husband and wife and the “natural impulse” of man to “continue and multiply his species” are “confined and regulated” by “society’s interests”; that the “principal end and design” of marriage is the relationship of “parent and child”; and that it is “by virtue of this relation that infants are protected, maintained, and educated.” (3038-3039*.)

As Cooper proceeded to work his way through “eminent authority after eminent authority”—all in evidence submitted at the trial—Walker interrupted him to ask the bizarre question, “I don’t mean to be flip, but Blackstone didn’t testify. Kingsley Davis didn’t testify. What testimony in this case supports the proposition?” (3039:16-18.)

Cooper responded to Walker’s question:

Your Honor, these materials are before you. They are evidence before you.… But, your Honor, you don’t have to have evidence for this from these authorities. This is in the cases themselves. The cases recognize this one after another. [3039:19-3040:1]

Walker: “I don’t have to have evidence?” [3040:2]

Cooper: “You don’t have to have evidence of this point if one court after another has recognized—let me turn to the California cases on this.” [3040:3-5]

Note that only the underlined portion of the passage is what Walker quotes in his opinion.

Cooper then proceeded to present California cases stating (in Cooper’s words, which may include direct quotations not reflected in the transcript’s punctuation) that the “first purpose of matrimony by the laws of nature and society is procreation,” that “the institution of marriage … channels biological drives … that might otherwise become socially destructive and … it ensures the care and education of children in a stable environment,” and that (in a ruling just two years ago) “the sexual procreative and childrearing aspects of marriage go to the very essence of the marriage relation.” [3040]

2. Walker’s question—“What testimony in this case supports the proposition?”—wasn’t just flip. It was downright stupid—amazingly so, from a judge who has been on the bench for more than two decades. Even if one indulges the mistaken assumption that there was any need for a trial in the case (rather than its being disposed of, one way or the other, on summary judgment, with competing expert and documentary submissions), live witness testimony is merely one form of trial evidence. Exhibits submitted in evidence at trial are another form. And a judge is of course free to, and expected to, take judicial notice of certain facts.

3. In context, it’s clear that Cooper cited extensive evidence in the record, as well as relevant legal authorities, in support of the proposition that “responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage.” Indeed, the evidence that Prop 8 proponents submitted (and cited in their proposed findings of fact) in support of this heretofore obvious and noncontroversial proposition was overwhelming.

4. When Cooper stated “you don’t have to have evidence for this from these authorities”—Kingsley Davis and Blackstone and the other “eminent authorities” that Cooper was ready to discuss when Walker interrupted—and that the “cases themselves” “recognize this one after another,” it’s crystal-clear in context that he wasn’t contending that he hadn’t provided evidence or that he didn’t need to provide evidence or other authority. He was merely making the legally sound observation that the many cases recognizing the procreative purpose of marriage were an alternative and additional source of authority for the proposition.

But you wouldn’t know any of this from Walker’s highly distorting clip of Cooper’s statement—or from Olson’s contemptible misrepresentation of it, or the media’s mindless parroting of it.

Walker’s outrageous distortion on this point isn’t an aberration. As I will show when I have time, it’s representative of his entire modus operandi throughout his ruling.

* It’s not apparent from the transcript which portions of these quotations are directly from Blackstone and which involve Cooper’s linkages. In quoting the transcript in this post, I’ve also corrected obvious typographical errors that the transcriber made (e.g., “principle” for “principal” and “imminent” for “eminent”). All emphases are mine.

Then there is the issue of Judge Walker being biased based on his being gay. Whelan in another post notes that Walker was not forthcoming on possible personal biases.

In an important op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, law professor John Eastman argues that Judge Vaughn Walker was obligated either “to disqualify himself or at least to disclose his potentially disqualifying relationship to the parties”—and that, under Supreme Court precedent, his failure to do so “requires that the opinion in the case be vacated and a new trial conducted before a different judge”:

In Liljeberg vs. Health Services Acquisition Corp., the Supreme Court held that the original judgment had to be set aside even when the disqualifying relationship only became known to the parties 10 months after the judgment entered in the case had been upheld on appeal.

As I’ve discussed, whether Walker’s recently reported same-sex relationship requires his recusal may well depend on facts that Walker has not seen fit to disclose. It’s the usual practice for a judge to advise parties at the outset of a case of information that might give reasonable cause to question the judge’s impartiality. Walker’s failure to do so would seem yet further evidence of Walker’s manifest inability to be impartial.

This raises fundamental questions about character. The founding fathers thought private behavior was linked to public activity. For instance, Noah Webster author of Webster’s Dictionary and an American statesman wrote in reference to moral behavior and the presidency that:

[A]ll history is a witness of the truth of the principle that good morals are essential to the faithful and upright discharge of public functions. The moral character of a man is an entire and indivisible thing—it cannot be pure in one part and defiled in another. A man may indeed be addicted, for a time, to one vice and not to another; but it is a solemn truth that any considerable breach in the moral sense facilitates the admission of every species of vice.

What Webster is saying is that one’s private moral character is indivisible from one’s public conduct. In other words, one can’t compartmentalize one’s life. It's reasonable to draw a connection between Judge Walker's public conduct as a judge and his persona identification with an immoral sexual behavior.


elaine said...

If it wasn't for judges we would have slavery, no womens vote.

Its people like you that we need to have judges like this for.

Keep your religious extremist views out of my home! And away from my children!

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