This week’s Torah portion, parshat Shofetim is so timely. We have just witnessed the selection of a new Supreme Court Justice, Elana Kagan. She was sworn in last weekend to become the third Jew and the third woman sitting on this Roberts Court. The opening words of our Torah portion says, “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes in all the settlements that the Eternal your God is giving you and they shall govern the people with due justice” (Deut. 16:1). We offer her prayers of congratulations at her historic appointment and confirmation.
From ancient times until now justice and the fair execution of justice is critical to our world’s functioning. Justice and Judgment are Divine attributes. They flow from God’s very Being into the Universe. This week’s Torah portion, reminds us of how important these ideals are and the role of the judge to be fair and impartial in their work. “You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just” (Deut 16:19). This is exactly what we hope our judges, justices, and courts will do.
But another judge is under attack for bringing more justice in the world. Last week Judge Vaughn Walker’s historic federal ruling striking down Proposition 8 has put him in the sight lines of those who would subvert justice. Judge Walker is coming under attack for his ruling and because he is a gay man some are calling his ruling biased.
Judge Walker was assigned the case of Perry v Schwarzenegger by lottery. It was random. He was a Bush appointee to the federal bench. The first President Bush. In the early 1980’s President Reagan wanted to appoint him to the bench but his appointment was actually opposed by several GLBT organizations and they helped prevent him from being named then. Even Nancy Pelosi opposed his nomination then. He was active in Republican politics before becoming a judge. Not your typical gay activist credentials.
If you read the ruling striking down Proposition 8 you will see that Judge Walker didn’t just take briefs he listened to a full trial. Each side had the opportunity to bring witnesses and experts. Judge Walker examines the materials presented and judges based upon the facts of the case. He did what judges are supposed to do.
But as soon as the ruling came down those that disagree with it started to call for his impeachment. Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association, called upon the U.S. House of Representative to start impeachment hearings since Walker is gay he couldn’t possibly be fair. Does this mean only straight judges get to hear discrimination cases against gay people? The irony is that when in private practice, prior to becoming a judge, Walker represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a law suit against what was then called the Gay Olympics. Now the Gay Games. Wildmon and his ilk want to deflect the real issues of justice and equality. Instead attack the judge.
Our Torah portion teaches this week. “Justice, Justice you shall pursue,” (Deut. 16:20). In the pursuit of justice and equality and fairness Judge Vaughn Walker did what judges are supposed to do. He did so with courage, with dignity, and by following the law.
Today Judge Walker lifted the stay–sort of. He said marriages could resume Wednesday, August 18 at 5 pm. This gives a week for the proponents of Prop 8 to try to get a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals. Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown representing the State of California have weighed in that the marriages should resume. Who has the standing to bring it to the Court of Appeals? That is part of the question. Let’s hope the Appeals Court finds no one has the standing and keeps the weddings on!