SAN FRANCISCO -- Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, whose ruling on Proposition 8 led to Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing, presided over the first federal trial on same-sex marriage. The tall, lanky, white-haired former judge is now in private practice in San Francisco doing mediation and private judging.
Walker, 69, retired in February 2011. He was busy mediating a business dispute Tuesday morning but was going to listen to a recording of the arguments and read a transcript later.
“I have another life now, a new life,” he said. “I have done my part. I sent the case off to the Court of Appeals, and now it’s in the hands of other people.”
He said the case is often on his mind.
“One gets reminded of this all the time,” he said. “It is the case that keeps on giving.”
“I think about it from time to time. But I have moved on.”
He declined to discuss the Proposition 8 litigation, citing the “hubbub over my personal life” made by Prop. 8’s sponsors. After Walker decided to overturn Proposition 8, the measure’s sponsors contended that he should have recused himself because he is gay.
He also noted that there might be further litigation if the high court dismisses the case on standing grounds. Proposition 8 sponsors would then be likely to try to limit Walker’s ruling to the two couples who sued or even void it altogether.
Walker, a Republican appointee, was considered a conservative with a libertarian bent. His sexual orientation was well known among lawyers and judges in San Francisco, though he had never spoken about it publicly until after his ruling. He told reporters then that he had assumed it wasn’t an issue. He also said he was in a long-term relationship with his partner, a physician.
He said the Prop. 8 case was “certainly the one that has gotten the most attention” during his 21 years as a federal judge.
His decision to hold a trial to examine same-sex marriage and even sexual orientation itself took attorneys on both sides by surprise at the time. Gay rights leaders later credited the trial with testing assumptions and providing evidence that helped their cause. Gays and lesbians testified about how they personally had been affected by discrimination, and social scientists gave the court a history lesson in marriage over the centuries.
“I kind of did my thing and sent it off,” Walker said of his historic role. “Sure I am interested in what happens. I follow the news stories.”