Bias on the Bench
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      A retired federal judge, appointed by Republican President H.W. Bush, has recently confirmed that he is gay and has had a 10 year relationship with another gay man. Judge Vaughn Walker struck down the California gay marriage ban long before his sexual preference admissions, but states that his decision was not based on his sexual leanings. He felt that it was the right thing to do. There are gay marriage opponents who believe he should have excused himself from that case, not because he is gay, but rather because of the similarity in his gay relationship and the relationship between the same-sex couple who sued for a right to marry. There is a motion in court to have Judge Walker's ruling set aside. The judge said that any accusations that his decision in that case had anything to do with his being gay was a very "slippery slope." Try to imagine the possible ramifications if we learned that judges often handed down rulings based on their biases or on their predispositions. Maybe even worse, try to imagine that they don't.
      In the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case, it was ruled that black people were not citizens. Do we automatically assume the ruling judges were prejudiced? Looking at the decision from today's perspective, maybe they were. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas suit decided that separate but equal education was inherently unequal in the racial segregation of schools, so do we assume that ruling was handed down by a black majority on the bench? Hopefully, the Roe v. Wade verdict of 1973 that women had a right to abortion during the 1st trimester, without any government interference, was not a decision based on just women's rights, but human rights involving their own bodies. And did women hand down that decision?
      University of California v. Blakke, 1978, decided that giving minorities greater rights and opportunities than majorities was not constitutional, that there should be no set quotas for acceptance of certain racial applicants into any University or college. Otherwise wouldn't minorities simply have more rights than the majority? Again, do we take it for granted that it must have been an all white majority that made the ruling? As a result of the Miranda v. Arizona case, as anyone who watches crime programs on TV can verify, suspects in criminal cases must be told they have a right, in any interrogation by the Police, to be silent, to have an attorney present, to even have an attorney provided free if they can't afford one. I'll wager that decision cut down on the heavy handed questioning sessions in back rooms of police stations, and also that the judge in the case didn't just have a bone to pick with the Police Department. Was the judge necessarily white or black?
      The point, obviously, is that if you excuse every judge in cases where they might have a certain viewpoint or personal opinion that someone somewhere would claim could affect their ruling, that would bring the trial court system to a standstill. Let's hope that Judge Walker, and every other judge that has ever rendered a decision in a courtroom in America, has based his rulings on not only what is legal, but what is just and what is right, regardless of their personal opinions. As "just" and "right" are relative terms, this cannot always be an easy task.
      I wonder what was going on in the minds of the British in 1876, when they formed the Dominion of Canada, under the British North America Act, and handed down a ruling that "Women are persons in matters of pain and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges?" The ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1928, but struck down the following year.
      Anyway, recent surveys seem to imply that voters are not paying as much attention to a candidate's opinions on gay marriage, or other social issues, as they once were, when they decide who they cast their ballot for in an election. Still, the question remains, is a judge's view on gay marriage, whether for or against, critical to their performance on the job, if their job is to decide what rights gays should have? Either way, if he is pro gay and rules for gay marriage, or i