10 February 2010

The orientation of justice

The weekend saw the revelation that the judge presiding over the Proposition 8 trial in California, Vaughn Walker, is himself gay. At least according to the Prop. 8 Trial Tracker, the main venue via which I've been following the story, the anti-gay-marriage side has, to their credit, not tried to exploit this much. Nevertheless, if Walker rules for the plaintiffs, it's inevitable that suspicions and mutterings of bias will fester in the darker corners of the right wing. This suggests a couple of questions:

1) If a homosexual judge in such a case is automatically suspected of bias, why wouldn't a heterosexual judge be equally suspect, or perhaps even more so? A member of a minority group has ample opportunity in the course of a lifetime to hear and understand the views and attitudes of the majority, since they are predominant in society, but a member of the majority has far less opportunity to absorb and sympathize with the views and attitudes of a minority.

2) In a legal case involving black civil rights, if the judge himself happened to be black, would he automatically be suspected of bias in a way that a white judge would not? How about a female judge in a women's-rights case? If such suspicions were taken as a clear sign of bigotry, shouldn't the same be true in the Prop. 8 case?

In any event, even if Judge Walker were a skirt-chasing he-man to put Tiger Woods to shame, that would not do him any good if he were to rule for the plaintiffs. Recall that John E. Jones III, the presiding judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, was a Christian, a Republican, and a Bush appointee -- and nevertheless suffered an inundation of fundamentalist scorn and death threats after he ruled against the creationists.


Blogger Jerry Critter said...

Unfortunately, a bias for the majority is not considered a bias, it is considered correct thinking.

10 February, 2010 08:46  
Anonymous Kvatch said...

Vaughn Walker, is himself gay.

Well...let's see. Presides over US District Court for NoCal. Lives in San Francisco (well at least he did till the early 2000's). Yep, pretty good chance he's gay, almost 1 in 8 chance in fact.

But let's be clear, Walker is no slam dunk in the Prop 8 case. He is no friend of the people, straight, gay, or otherwise.

10 February, 2010 08:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

More on Walker here. He's clearly no radical.

10 February, 2010 10:30  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

If anything, I would think that an openly gay judge who had risen through the ranks to become Chief U.S. District Judge would be more likely to exhibit bias in favor of the defendants, if anything. You don't achieve a position on that level without being just a tad defensive about your status as a member of a legally recognized minority. Just knowing (as he must know) that even if he issues the most logical, technically correct ruling based on absolutely solid legal principle and precedent, if that ruling were to be in favor of gays, he would be in for a world of hurt. That has to be at least some influence on the thought process of someone that has had a successful career in a public position, even if it's not a completely conscious process.

Any jurist who issued a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would come under fire from the religious right, but an openly gay man would be viciously attacked, professionally, personally, and possibly physically.

Unless he's completely immune to the thought of a pack of rabid fundies descending on him like ... well, like a pack of rabid fundies, I'd have to worry about his impartiality.

10 February, 2010 13:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Quite likely true, unfortunately. These foaming fundies are not at all shy about using violence to try to stop progress. They have murdered people, and will murder more. Not even a judge could completely shut that out of his thinking.

10 February, 2010 13:31  

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