Vaughn Walker

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Vaughn Walker
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
In office
October 30, 2004 – December 31, 2010
Preceded byMarilyn Hall Patel
Succeeded byJames Ware
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
In office
November 27, 1989 – February 28, 2011
Appointed byGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded bySpencer Mortimer Williams
Succeeded byYvonne Gonzalez Rogers
Personal details
Vaughn Richard Walker[1]

1944 (age 78–79)
Watseka, Illinois, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Michigan (AB)
Stanford University (JD)

Vaughn Richard Walker (born 1944) is an American lawyer who served as a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California from 1989 to 2011. Walker presided over the original trial in Hollingsworth v. Perry, where he found California's Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.

Education and career[edit]

Walker was born in Watseka, Illinois, in 1944. He graduated from the University of Michigan with an Artium Baccalaureus degree in 1966 and Stanford Law School with a Juris Doctor in 1970.[2] From 1966 to 1967, he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.[3] After clerking for United States District Court for the Central District of California Judge Robert J. Kelleher (1971–72), he practiced in San Francisco at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Walker was originally nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. However, this nomination stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of controversy over his representation of the United States Olympic Committee in a lawsuit that prohibited the use of the title "Gay Olympics".[4][5] Two dozen House Democrats, led by Representative Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, opposed his nomination because of his perceived insensitivity to gays and the poor.[6]

On September 7, 1989, Walker was re-nominated by President George H. W. Bush to the seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California vacated by Judge Spencer M. Williams.[2] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 21, 1989, on unanimous consent and received his commission on November 27, 1989.

On September 29, 2010, Walker announced he would retire at the end of 2010 and return to private practice.[7] He retired at the end of February 2011. On April 6, 2011, Walker told reporters that he is gay and has been in a relationship with a male doctor for about ten years.[8] He was the first known gay person to serve as a United States federal judge,[9] though he did not publicly confirm his sexual orientation until after retiring from the federal bench.[10]

Post-judicial service[edit]

Since retiring from the bench, he has operated a private practice in San Francisco focusing on arbitration and mediation services,[11] as well as lecturing at Stanford Law School and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.[12]

Walker's official portrait


Walker generally believes in a legal approach known as law and economics.[13]

Walker has been called an "unorthodox" and "independent-minded conservative" judge; he has called for policies including the auctioning of lead counsel status in securities class action suits and the legalization of drugs.[4] In a 2003 case, United States v. Gementera, as a condition of supervised release, Walker required a defendant who had pleaded guilty to mail theft to stand in front of a San Francisco post office wearing a sandwich board that read: "I stole mail. This is my punishment."[14] The condition was upheld on appeal.[14]

A San Francisco Chronicle columnist and reporter wrote in a commentary that Walker has an "aversion to harsh sentences for well-educated, well-heeled criminals and, in particular, perpetrators of securities fraud."[15]

The New York Times at the time of his initial Reagan nomination stated he was active in Republican politics;[16] Wired magazine describes Walker as having libertarian leanings.[17]


Walker in 2008 speaking to the Pacific Research Institute

Walker has presided over such notable cases as lawsuits over NSA warrantless surveillance;[18] the Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation copyright infringement case;[19] the breach of TD Ameritrade's customer information database[20] Clint Reilly's antitrust litigation over the Hearst Corporation's purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle;[21] and Oracle's merger/hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, which was approved despite Justice Department opposition.[22]

Hollingsworth v. Perry[edit]

On January 11, 2010, Walker began hearing arguments in Perry v. Brown. The case was a federal-constitutional challenge to California Proposition 8, a voter initiative constitutional amendment that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, a right which had previously been granted after the California Supreme Court found that Proposition 22 was unconstitutional.[23] On August 4, 2010, Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional "under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses" and prohibited its enforcement.[24][25]

On April 25, 2011, supporters of Proposition 8 filed a motion in district court to vacate Walker's decision, citing Walker's own post-trial statement that he has been in a long-term relationship with another man. They argued he should have recused himself or disclosed his relationship status, and unless Walker "disavowed any interest in marrying his partner", he had "a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case."[26][27] District Court Judge James Ware heard arguments on the motion on June 13 and denied it the next day, writing that "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."[28][29] Legal experts noted that similar efforts to remove Hispanic judges from immigration cases or female judges from gender-discrimination cases have also failed in the past.[30]

The Supreme Court of the United States's 2013 decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry left Walker's 2010 ruling as the final decision on Proposition 8.[31][32][33]

The proceedings were reenacted in the stage play 8, in which Walker was portrayed by Brad Pitt and Bob Balaban.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The State Bar of California. "Vaughn Richard Walker – California Bar profile". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Walker, Vaughn R. | Federal Judicial Center". Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  3. ^ "The Honorable Vaughn R. Walker". Board of Advisors. Stanford University Rock Center for Corporate Governance. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Egelko, Bob (September 1, 2004). "Walker becomes chief district judge". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  5. ^ Anthony, TJ (January 1988), "Homophobic Judicial Nominee Opposed" (PDF), Stonewall Democratic Club, San Francisco Chapter Newsletter, retrieved June 1, 2012[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Gay judge has proven record of impartiality" (editorial). The San Francisco Chronicle. February 9, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  7. ^ Dolan, Maura (September 29, 2010). "Federal judge who ruled Prop. 8 unconstitutional plans to step down". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 17, 2011.
  8. ^ Levine, Dan (April 6, 2011). "Gay judge never considered dropping Prop 8 case". Reuters. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  9. ^ Geidner, Chris (April 16, 2010). "Breaking Barriers". Metro Weekly. Retrieved April 7, 2011. DuMont would only be the third known LGBT judge serving in the federal judiciary.... The others are U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts, who was nominated for her judgeship in 1994..., and U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who sits in San Francisco and was not publicly known to be gay when nominated in 1989.
  10. ^ Johnson, Chris (April 7, 2011). "Federal judge who struck down Prop 8 comes out: report". Washington Blade. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  11. ^ "Proposition 8 case: Judge who struck down California's gay marriage ban speaks out - San Jose Mercury News". Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  12. ^ "Honorable Vaughn R. Walker (Ret.) Honored by The Bar Association of San Francisco's Barristers Club at 27th Annual Judges Reception". The Bar Association of San Francisco. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  13. ^ Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer (September 14, 2004). "Aaron Director – profoundly influential law professor". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 16, 2009.
  14. ^ a b U.S. v. Gementera, 379 F.3d 496 (9th Cir. 2004).
  15. ^ Holding, Reynolds (May 13, 2001). "White-collar crooks' suite-heart deals". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 16, 2009.
  16. ^ Philip Shenon (January 14, 1988). "Battle Looming Over a Nominee For U.S. Court". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2010. Mr. Walker, a 43-year-old partner at the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro who has been active in Republican politics...
  17. ^ Ryan Singel (November 17, 2006). "NSA Case Becomes Lawyer Junket". Wired. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  18. ^ Charlie Savage, James Risen (March 31, 2010). "Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal". New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency's program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration's effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.
  19. ^ Examiner Staff and Wire Reports (February 21, 1995). "High Court rejects final Apple appeal". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  20. ^ Funk, josh (November 16, 2010). "New Settlement Offered in TD Ameritrade data theft". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 17, 2010. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  21. ^ "Justice clears Chron sale to Hearst". SFGate. March 30, 2000. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  22. ^ Pimentel, Benjamin (September 10, 2004). "Oracle wins antitrust suit in bid for rival / Ruling lifts major obstacle to takeover of PeopleSoft". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  23. ^ Michael B. Farrell (January 11, 2010). "Gay marriage trial begins with tough questions for both sides". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 7, 2010.
  24. ^ Vaughn R. Walker (August 4, 2010). "Opinion and Order" (PDF). PACER. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 16, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
  25. ^ Dwyer, Devin (August 4, 2010). "Unconstitutional: Federal Court Overturns Proposition 8, Gay Marriage Ban in California". ABC News. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  26. ^ New York Times: "Judge's Partner Cited in Prop 8 Case," April 25, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2011
  27. ^ The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Walker's homosexuality was "the biggest open secret in the landmark trial over same-sex marriage." Those interviewed for the article said Walker had "never taken pains to disguise—or advertise—his [sexual] orientation" and they thought it would not influence his decision in the case.Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross (February 7, 2010). "Judge being gay a nonissue during Prop. 8 trial". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  28. ^ MetroWeekly: Chris Geidner, "Motion to Vacate Prop 8 Decision Is Denied," June 14, 2011 Archived June 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved June 14, 2011
  29. ^ "Wall Street Journal". Archived from the original on June 17, 2011.
  30. ^ Wood, Daniel B. (June 14, 2011). "Prop. 8 ruling: gay judge didn't need to recuse himself". Retrieved June 21, 2011.
  31. ^ "Prop 8 ruling explained: Why gay marriage will resume in California. NBC June 26, 2013". June 26, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  32. ^ Savage, David G. (June 26, 2013). "Prop. 8: Supreme Court clears way for gay marriage in California. LA Times June 26, 2013 Politics Now". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  33. ^ Schwartz, John (June 26, 2013). "Between the Lines of the Proposition 8 Opinion. NY Times June 26 2013". The New York Times. California. Retrieved March 12, 2018.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Succeeded by