U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will
step down from the bench at the end of this year.
Walker is best known for ruling
California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, which defines marriage
as a heterosexual union in the California Constitution, in violation
of the U.S. Constitution.
The ruling was handed down in August
after Walker conducted a 13-day trial in January. Walker wrote that
the ban, approved narrowly by voters in November 2008 after the
California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, violated the
constitutional rights of gay men and lesbians.
The initiative's sponsors,
ProtectMarriage.com, a coalition of social conservative groups that
includes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the
Mormons), the California Catholic Conference and various evangelical
churches, defended the law in court after government officials
refused, and have appealed Walker's ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Oral arguments are scheduled in
The 66-year-old Walker gave no reason
for his decision, but a colleague told the San Francisco Chronicle
that he did not believe Walker's retirement was connected to his
He is not being “hounded out” by
critics, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said.
Proposition 8 proponents have blasted
the ruling and attacked Walker personally. One brief filed in the
appeal takes issue with Walker's rumored sexuality.
“If the allegation that Judge Walker
is a homosexual is true, [then] he has a personal interest in the
outcome of the trial” and should have recused himself, Robert
Wooten wrote in a friend of the court brief.
ProtectMarriage.com has called Walker
“egregiously selective and one-sided” in their court filings.
In a statement titled “Got Bias?”
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for
Marriage (NOM), the nation's most vociferous opponent of gay
marriage, accused Walker of “egregious and damaging” bias.
“He's been an amazingly biased and
one-sided force throughout this trial, far more akin to an activist
than a neutral referee,” Brown said.
Walker was appointed to the court by
President George H. W. Bush in 1990 and began serving as chief judge
In a letter to President Obama
announcing his retirement,Walker said, “ Concluding 21 years of
judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and
regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the
essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system.”