Bench Memos

Vaughn Walker’s Retirement

The Northern District of California announced yesterday that Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, whose remarkable course of misconduct in the anti-Prop 8 case I’ve extensively documented, “has notified President Obama by letter … that he will leave the court in February 2011” and that he “plans to return to the private sector”—presumably in San Francisco.

Walker’s decision to retire is no surprise.  Indeed, the buzz from local courtwatchers is that Walker was going to retire last year (when he first became pension-eligible) but changed his mind when the anti-Prop 8 case, through the wonders of supposedly random assignment, fell into his lap.

Applying Ockham’s razor, I will readily presume that Walker’s wild course of misconduct in the anti-Prop 8 case was driven entirely by his ideological fervor for same-sex marriage and that Walker wasn’t also trying to feather his own post-judicial nest.  That said, if he were trying to feather his nest, his high-profile invention of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, including his remarkable (and overturned) denial of a stay of his judgment pending appeal, would be one way to build a lot of goodwill among many prospective San Francisco employers.  (On the other hand, anyone who actually read his ruling, and followed his actions, with care would be less than impressed by his legal ability.)

The entire anti-Prop 8 farce would be complete if Walker were to join either Ted Olson’s or David Boies’s firm.  But negotiations could be complicated if Walker were to make a well-deserved request for back pay.

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