Vaughn R. Walker, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was born in Watseka, Illinois in 1944. He is a 1966 graduate of the University of Michigan and took his law degree in 1970 from Stanford Law School. From 1971 to ’72, he clerked for Judge Robert Kelleher of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In 1972, he joined the San Francisco law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, a huge firm with a sterling list of huge corporate clients, including Standard Oil of Caliornia (Chevron) and Pacific Telephone & Telegraph.
In 1987, Walker — a conservative Republican — was nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, another transplanted Californian with roots in Illinois,. His nomination was blocked in the Judiciary Committee and two years later, he was nominated by Regan’s successor, George H.W. Bush. That time, he was confirmed by the Senate.
In 2010, he found himself in the eye of the hurricane storming over the issue of same-sex marriage. Walker oversaw the trial considering the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that amended the California state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Judge Walker struck down Prop. 8 for violating the federal rights of gay people under the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Reagan/Bush 41 Appointee
Vaughn Walker’s 1987 nomination to a federal judgeship failed despite a Republican majority in the Senate partly due to his perceived homophobia. Senate Democrats in the Judiciary Committee officially blocked the nomination not on the grounds of suspected anti-gay bigotry but because Walker was a member of an all-male club. He resigned during the nomination process, but he failed to get confirmed.
Gay activists were opposed to Walker’s nomination in ’87 as he had, as a lawyer, handled the U.S. Olympic Committee’s lawsuit against the Sam Francisco-based Gay Olympics for trademark infringement. That year, future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who was then a freshman in Congress representing a district that included part of San Francisco, which has a large gay population, was very vocal in her opposition to Walker.
Ironically, Vaughn Walker himself is a homosexual, though he has never publicly acknowledged — or denied — that he is gay.
After his first nomination to the federal bench stalled, two years later, President George H. W. Bush nominated Walker to the seat being vacated by U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Spencer M. Williams, a Nixon appointee. Walker was confirmed by the Senate with unanimous consent in 1989, a startling contrast to his treatment in 1987. He became the senior judge in his district in 2004.
According to the Library of Congress Web site, Judge Vaughn Walker is one of only two federal jurists that are homosexual. The Proposition 8 case dealing with the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage was randomly assigned to Judge Walker. He reportedly said that this was one of life’s ironies.
Sources who knew Judge Walker told the press that his homosexuality did not influence how he decided the Prop. 8 case. The case was randomly assigned to Judge Walker. The judge, who was demonized by the gay community nearly a quarter century ago when he was in private practice, said his getting the case that ultimately might decide the fate of gay marriage in the entire country was one of life’s ironies.
A fellow federal judge who is an intimate friend of Walker told the San Francisco Chronicle of a private conversation they had.
“He has a private life and he doesn’t conceal it,” the friend told the Chronicle, “but doesn’t think it is relevant to his decisions in any case, and he doesn’t bring it to bear in any decisions.”
Opponents of gay marriage called the conservative Republican jurist a stalking horse for gay rights, a sort of Manchurian candidate from beyond the pale of heterosexuality who had been activated by this case to assassinate traditional family values. Some conservatives actually denounced the conservative judge as a liberal activist!
Ironically, one of the critics of Judge Walker is Edwin Meese, who was Attorney General when Ronald Reagan nominated him to the federal bench. Meese was the one responsible or vetting Walker at the time. Twenty-three years later, he wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times accusing the Republican jurist of pro-gay bias.
Vaughn Walker believes in a legal approach known as law and economics. Also known as the economic analysis of the law, adherents to the law and economics school apply economic analysis to the law and legislation. They use economics to explain the effects of laws and to weigh the economic efficiency of laws and regulations. Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago) is the most prominent and influential jurist in the law and economics school of legal theory.
Elucidating the influence of the school, The Journal of Legal Studies claimed that Judge Posner — who also teaches at the University of Chicago Law School — is the most cited legal scholar of all time.
As a judge, Walker is seen as conservative but independent-minded with a libertarian streak. He ruled that the National Security Agency’s conducting of electronic surveillance without a search warrant was unconstitutional.
In the field of gay rights, Walker held in a 1999 case that the First Amendment rights to religions freedom of a boy who claimed they were violated by a teacher who made pro-gay comments were not breached. He also, in a 2005 case, ruled that a city could prevent employees from handing out anti-gay propaganda on the basis that it had a duty to prevent discrimination.
Judge Walker wrote in that case that the city of Oakland, California had “significant interests in restricting discriminatory speech about homosexuals…(and has) a duty under state law to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”