Bench Memos

Vaughn Walker, the Bohemian Club, and Prop. 8

In her column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Debra J. Saunders observes that “in the Bay Area, good liberals and civil libertarians who would not dream of joining a club that refuses to admit blacks or Jews, raise their glasses in a club that discriminates against women”—namely, San Francisco’s Bohemian Club.

Guess who one of the members of the Bohemian Club is? Former district judge Vaughn Walker, author of the crazed, deeply biased, and, as one same-sex marriage advocate put it, “radical” ruling against California’s Prop 8 on marriage—a ruling that ignored binding Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent, concocted absurd factual findings, and grossly misstated the state of the record on key points. (And, as we more recently learned, Walker was obligated to disqualify himself from the case at the outset.)

Walker’s membership in the Bohemian Club nicely illustrates Matt Franck’s point (in his Public Discourse essay last week) that distinctions based on sex are not just like distinctions based on race—and that the “blithe parallel” that has become “a favorite rhetorical turn of the campaign for same-sex marriage” and that underlies Walker’s own ruling is fundamentally unsound.

(I recognize that a principled libertarian could defend the right of private associations to engage in immoral discrimination while opposing the power of the state to do so. But Walker has shown by his own membership in the Bohemian Club that he does not regard its exclusion of women to be immoral.)

Addendum: To my surprise, one regular reader scolds me for supposedly taking the position that it’s immoral to belong to the Bohemian Club. I don’t see how my post, read with care, is susceptible to that misreading. But to anyone else who was similarly confused, I offer this clarification.

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