Politics & Policy

Judge Walker’s Phony Facts

It has been clear since before the beginning of the year that Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco was on a mission to establish a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage and thereby to overturn California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment passed by the people of the state in 2008. 

From his decision to have a “trial” of the “facts” in the case rather than proceed straightaway to legal arguments about the constitutional issues (a choice that surprised even the plaintiffs’ attorneys) to his attempt to stage a nationally televised extravaganza (brought to a halt by the Supreme Court) to his unconcealed bias in favor of the plaintiffs in virtually every aspect of the proceedings (ably summarized by NRO’s Ed Whelan here), Judge Walker has been preparing us for a baldfaced usurpation of political power for quite a while.


What Walker did not prepare us for is the jaw-dropping experience of reading his sophomorically reasoned opinion. Of the 135 pages of the opinion proper, only the last 27 contain anything resembling a legal argument, while the rest is about equally divided between a summary of the trial proceedings and the judge’s “findings of fact.” The conclusions of law seem but an afterthought — conclusory, almost casually thin, raising more questions than they answer. On what grounds does Judge Walker hold that the considered moral judgment of the whole history of human civilization — that only men and women are capable of marrying each other — is nothing but a “private moral view” that provides no conceivable “rational basis” for legislation? Who can tell? Judge Walker’s smearing of the majority of Californians as irrational bigots blindly clinging to mere tradition suggests that he has run out of arguments and has nothing left but his reflexes.


But the deeper game Judge Walker is playing unfolds in those many pages of “fact finding” that make up the large middle of his ruling. There, through highly prejudicial language that bears little relation to any fact, the judge has smuggled in his own moral sentiments — in precisely the part of his opinion that would normally be owed a large measure of deference in the appellate courts. To take one example: It is hardly an incontrovertible fact that “Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians.”  But there it is, as finding No. 58. With “facts” like these, and appellate judges disinclined to question them, Judge Walker plainly hopes to propel this case toward a gay-marriage victory, regardless of how transparently weak his legal conclusions are. 

But the judges who ultimately take up this appeal — the justices of the Supreme Court, not the feckless Ninth Circuit — should not be buffaloed by Judge Walker’s invented “facts.” Still less should they confirm the specious legal conclusions he has extracted from them.


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