Dear Judicial Bias

15 Jun

Dear Judicial Bias,

Yesterday’s news item that won the prize for trying the hardest to make my head explode (and no, it’s not the Republication debate!):

Prop 8 advocates appealed the ruling last year that Prop 8 was unconstitutional. Their main argument? That the judge (Judge Vaughn Walker) who presided over the case was biased because he’s in a long-term relationship with a same-sex partner. And therefore stands to gain if gay marriage is legal. And therefore is unfit to judge the case. Because he’s biased. Because he’s gay.

In the end, the judge who heard the appeal (U.S. Chief District Judge James Ware) upheld Walker’s ruling, saying that bias can not be presumed (Seattle Times “Chief judge upholds ruling in same-sex-marriage case” A2 6/15/2011) (I would link to the online article but the headline is wrong and it’s just confusing):

The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief. On the contrary, it is reasonable to presume that a female judge or a judge in a same-sex relationship is capable of rising above any personal predisposition and deciding such a case on the merits.” —Judge Ware

Well, yes. Hard to argue with, in my mind.

On the other hand, Ware could have gone for the even closer comparison— the question no one seems to be asking…. which is that, hypothetically, if all gay judges are biased, then aren’t all heterosexual judges biased too? All those straight judges who have ruled against gay marriage across the United States— shouldn’t we be questioning their motives as well? (No, we should not.)

I am not saying I think this is true. I do not advocate bringing judges’ personal lives (or sexual orientation) into the courtroom. I’m just saying– slippery slope, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, back that appeals truck up, etc, etc.

And dear god, people, I don’t necessarily think the Enlightenment is the end-all be-all, but some elements of its advocacy of reason and rational thought sure could use a dusting off in the sphere of American public debate.




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