Former judge Vaughn R. Walker discussed his role deciding often controversial cases as a part of the Justice Lester W. Roth Lecture series Monday.
Walker served on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California as a district judge from 1989 to 2010, and ruled in such momentous cases as the Apple Computer Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation copyright infringement case, the various cases regarding the Terrorist Surveillance Program of the National Security Agency and Perry v. Brown, a challenge to Proposition 8.
Walker, who retired in 2011, allowed himself to speak freely of the Perry v. Brown case (formerly referred to as Perry v. Schwarzenegger), which he previously refused to comment on as an active judge in the legal dispute.
The 2010 case involved deciding the legality of Proposition 8, which recognized marriage solely as the union between a man and woman in California. Walker ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution.
As soon as the case reached his desk, Walker said he knew the case would be a dramatic one.
“I remember going through the stack of complaints on that day and noticed the name Schwarzenegger and thought, ‘This will be interesting,’” he said.
While Perry v. Brown was being discussed in the district court, many states around the country were also ruling on laws regarding same-sex marriage.
“A step forward, a step backward,” Walker said of the pro-gay rights laws that would be passed in one state and the anti-gay rights law that would be passed months later in another.
The lecture focused sharply on the “rapidly evolving situation with respect to marriage equality,” as Walker put it. Walker also provided background on the evolution of gay rights and discussed the impact of the positive changes that have been made in the last 50 years.
“Today … it’s hard to escape gays and lesbians in popular culture,” Walker said of the visible change in the presence of homosexuals in society.
As Walker noted, some 3 to 3.5 percent of the population openly identified as gay or lesbian in the 2010 census.
“We’re talking about 10, 12 million people … well, that’s not an insignificant number of people,” he said.
Along with the struggles of the gay community to fight for their rights, Walker noted how the fight for sexual orientation equality is essentially no different than the fight for gender equality. If someone can’t be denied a job based on his or her gender, Walker argued, marriage shouldn’t be any different.