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Vaughn Walker

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Vaughn Walker
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Court Information:
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Title:   Former Federal Judge
Position:   Seat #10
Appointed by:   George H.W. Bush
Active:   11/27/1989 - 2/28/2011
Chief:   2004 - 2010
Preceded by:   Spencer Williams
Succeeded by:   Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers
Personal History
Born:   1944
Hometown:   Watseka, IL
Undergraduate:   University of Michigan, A.B., 1966
Law School:   Stanford Law School, J.D., 1970

Vaughn R. Walker (b. 1944) was a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. He became a member of the court in 1989 after being nominated by George H.W. Bush. He served as Chief Judge of the court from 2004 to 2010. Walker stepped down from the court on February 28, 2011.[1]

Early life and education

A native of Illinois, Walker graduated from the University of Michigan with his bachelor's degree in 1966 and later graduated from Stanford Law School with his Juris Doctor degree in 1970.[2]

Professional career

Walker served as a law clerk for federal judge Robert Kelleher in the United States District Court for the Central District of California from 1971 to 1972 before spending the rest of his pre-judicial legal career as a private practice attorney in California from 1972 to 1990.[2]

Judicial career

Northern District of California

On the recommendation of U.S. Senator Pete Wilson, Walker was nominated by President George H.W. Bush on September 7, 1989 to a seat vacated by Spencer Williams. Walker was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 21, 1989 on unanimous consent and received commission on November 27, 1989. Walker has served as the chief judge of the court since 2004.[2][3]

Notable cases

Proposition 8 federal case (2009)

     United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Perry v. Schwarzenegger, No. 10-16696)

A federal lawsuit alleged that California's Proposition 8, which forbade same-sex marriage in California, and was approved by voters in the November 2008 election, was unconstitutional. This lawsuit was assigned to Judge Vaughn Walker in June 2009, and included a request that his court issue a federal injunction suspending Proposition 8.

Walker spoke about the case on June 30. Some of his remarks and reactions include:

  • The case raises issues that might need to be considered at a trial, "including the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians and the intent and effects of the state constitutional amendment."[4]
  • He said he was not inclined to issue an injunction but instead to move speedily to a trial.
  • Blocking or suspending Proposition 8 before a trial might "inject still further uncertainty in an important area of concern and interest to the state and its citizens."[5]

Walker's position that a trial was needed was unpopular with Brian Raum, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund who represented the sponsors of Proposition 8. Raum didn't think a trial was necessary because the only issues which should be in dispute are issues of law.[4]

On July 2, 2009, Judge Walker moved to give fast-track status to the lawsuit in which plaintiffs sought to overturn Proposition 8. Judge Walker agreed to let proponents for Proposition 8 to intervene in the case to defend the validity of the measure though California Attorney General Jerry Brown repeatedly claimed that the measure was unconstitutional.[6]

During the hour long hearing that took place in a packed courtroom, Judge Walker ordered the parties involved in the case to file by August 7, 2009 their case management proposals laying out the facts they agree on, the facts that still need to be tried, and a plan on how to proceed the case.[6]

On August 14, 2009, the judge asked both sides to issue their final briefs on how to proceed on the Proposition 8 case as there could be a possibility the case move on without a trial. Both sides were divisive on which additional litigants should be involved in the case, which was the main roadblock towards moving to trial. The two sides agreed to be the only litigants in the case despite the City of San Francisco and other gay advocacy groups that wished to participate.[7]

On August 19, 2009, Judge Walker approved the case management plans of both sides and set a trial date for January 11, 2010. At that time, the judge rejected motions to allow additional litigants in the case including some gay rights advocacy groups and the City of San Francisco. Judge Walker felt that by allowing additional litigants in the case, it would deprive the right of a speedy trial for both sides.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name cannot be a simple integer. Use a descriptive title

Later, on October 2, 2009, Judge Walker ordered supporters of Proposition 8 to hand over their campaign strategy documents to the judge. Judge Walker examined campaign documents to see if supporters of Prop. 8 acted in a matter of prejudice. If Judge Walker found the ballot measure discriminatory, then the ballot measure's results could have been invalidated.[8] Backers of Proposition 8 filed a motion to gut the January trial over past Supreme Court of the United States precedent.[9][10]

An appeal was filed to the Judge's order to hand over campaign strategy documents on Proposition 8. Groups in favor of the ban on gay marriage in California appealed the ruling over issues of freedom of speech and perceived harassment. On October 23, 2009, Walker ruled that there was not enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to stop his order.[11]

On August 4, 2010, Judge Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, as it violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In the opinion, he wrote, "Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”[12]

In 2011, Judge Walker came under attack for failure to recuse himself from the Prop. 8 case after he disclosed that he is gay. He announced on April 6 that he has been in a 10-year relationship with another man and added that he never considered his sexual orientation was relevant to the case. "It would not be a positive development if a judge’s sexuality, national origin or gender was pertinent to handling a case. That would be a slippery slope."[13]

Appeal of Walker's ruling

On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, a three judge appellate panel issued its ruling in Perry v. Brown which upheld the rulings by district court judges Vaughn Walker and James Ware. The panel, consisting of Judges Michael D. Hawkins, Stephen Reinhardt and Randy Smith, stated that “Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California." The panel was split in its decision with Judge Randy Smith concurring in part and dissenting in part. The panel upheld both the decisions of Chief Judge Ware as well as Senior Judge Walker, whose original decision has been challenged on the grounds that Walker had an undisclosed long term relationship with another man at the time of the case.[14] For expansive coverage of the ballot measure and ensuing legal controversy, please see: California Proposition 8, the "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" Initiative (2008).

In a separate ruling, on Thursday, the same panel refused to release the videos from the original trial. The panel held that Walker “promised the litigants that the conditions under which the recording was maintained would not change — that there was no possibility that the recording would be broadcast to the public in the future.” Because of this, the judges determined that, “The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments,” and that the video's should not be released.[15]

See also

External links


Political offices
Preceded by:
Spencer Williams
Northern District of California
Seat #10
Succeeded by:
Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers