Reagan-Appointed Judge Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban

Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation denounces Judge Vaughn Walker for “extreme judicial activism” and “judicial tyranny” in striking down California’s Proposition 8, which barred gay people from marrying. And of course he doesn’t fail to note that Judge Walker sits in … San Francisco. Robert Knight of Coral Ridge Ministries ups the ante: Judge Walker has “contempt for the rule of law” and is part of “the criminalization of not only Christianity but of the foundational values of civilization itself.” National Review allows the head of the National Organization for Marriage to mutter about the judge’s “personal bias.” Blog commenters rail against the “left-wing liberal judge.”

In fact, Judge Walker was first appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, at the recommendation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III (now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation). Democratic opposition led by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA) prevented the nomination from coming to a vote during Reagan’s term. Walker was renominated by President George H. W. Bush in February 1989. Again the Democratic Senate refused to act on the nomination. Finally Bush renominated Walker in August, and the Senate confirmed him in December.

What was the hold-up? Two issues, basically. Like many accomplished men of the time, he was a member of an all-male club, the Olympic Club. Many so-called liberals said that should disqualify him for the federal bench. People for the American Way, for instance, said in a letter to Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden, “The time has come to send a clear signal that there is no place on the federal bench for an individual who has, for years maintained membership in a discriminatory club and taken no meaningful steps to change the club’s practices.”

The second issue was that as a lawyer in private practice he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a suit that prevented a Bay Area group from calling its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.

Because of those issues, coalitions including such groups as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force worked to block the nomination.

In other words, this “liberal San Francisco judge” was recommended by Ed Meese, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups. It’s a good thing for advocates of marriage equality that those forces were only able to block Walker twice.

Josh Green of the Atlantic notes a pattern: the federal judge in Boston who struck down a significant portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it denied gay and lesbian couples the federal benefits afforded to straight couples, was appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon. And the chief judge of the Iowa Supreme Court who wrote the unanimous decision striking down that state’s marriage ban was appointed by Republican governor Terry Branstad, who was just renominated for governor by Iowa Republican voters. Of course, Nixon and Branstad don’t have the conservative cred of Reagan and Meese.