Eastman: Gay People Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Decide Court Cases About Gay People
April 13, 2011 2:15 pm ET by Carlos Maza
John Eastman, a law professor and member of The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board, published an article Monday asserting that former district judge Vaughn Walker, who recently confirmed suspicions that he is openly gay, should vacate his 2010 Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision striking down California’s Proposition 8:
Walker's admission requires that his decision in the case be vacated. He is either a direct beneficiary of his ruling in the case, or a person with a close-enough personal interest in the case that his impartiality might reasonably have been questioned if the required disclosures had been made. In Liljeberg vs. Health Services Acquisition Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court held that vacatur is required even when the disqualifying relationship only became known to the parties 10 months after the judgment entered in the case had been upheld on appeal. Where an objective observer would have questioned the judge's impartiality, recusal is required, and the appropriate remedy is to vacate the judgment because of the risk of injustice to the parties and of undermining the public's confidence in the judicial process.
Eastman’s logic, applied to any minority group other than the LGBT community, is deeply and obviously flawed. As Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, told the Washington Blade:
Just as nobody would think to ask a female judge to recuse herself in cases involving discrimination against women, it is equally absurd to think a gay judge should recuse himself in a case involving LGBT issues.
Indeed, the problem with Eastman’s argument, that it would also disqualify heterosexual judges from having made a decision about Prop 8.
During the 2010 trial, proponents of Prop. 8 argued that allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married would weaken marriage’s “ability to fulfill its vital societal purposes.” As a result, even a heterosexual judge would technically be a “direct beneficiary” of deciding to uphold Prop 8, disqualifying him/her from being able to effectively decide the case.
If this kind of debate over semantics seems silly, it’s because it is. As Dison explains, “All that matters is that judges are qualified, competent, impartial and fair.” Walker’s decision in Perry was hailed by many as thorough, factual, and well-reasoned. Proponents of Prop 8 lost their case not because Judge Walker was motivated by some personal pro-gay bias, but because, when all the evidence is laid out, there’s simply no reasonable way to justify denying gay and lesbian couples the right to get married.