Federal district court announces Walker’s resignation

Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who’s best known in California and nationwide for overruling California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in August, submitted his resignation Wednesday. Walker will step down next February, half a year shy of his maximum term as chief judge, which would have ended in August. A statement by the court notes that Walker plans to work in the private sector and that District Court Judge James Ware will succeed Walker.

According to reporting from Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times, Walker’s office has indicated that his decision is unrelated to the controversial and recently concluded Proposition 8 trial.

Dolan refers to Walker as “a Republican appointee considered a conservative with a libertarian bent.”

Prior to the controversial Proposition 8 trial, many in San Francisco’s gay community had characterized Walker, appointed to the court by former President Ronald Reagan, as unfriendly to gay causes. He had been labeled as such largely due to a ruling in a civil case prohibiting unauthorized use of the term “Olympics” by the Gay Olympics.

As a result of Walker’s lead role in the Proposition 8 trial, he is now being labeled by outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage as a judge with a gay agenda, while being hailed by most in the LGBT community as a champion of gay rights. A column in the San Francisco Chronicle this summer identified Walker as gay, a suggestion to which Walker has not responded publicly.

The press release issued by the court’s news service:

SAN FRANCISCO ---- The United States District Court for the Northern District of California announces today that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker will step down as chief judge effective December 31, 2010.  Also, Chief Judge Walker notified President Obama by letter today that he will leave the court in February 2011.

Chief Judge Walker has been a United States District Judge since February 5, 1990 and has served as chief judge of the court since September 1, 2004.  Before becoming a federal judge, Chief Judge Walker was a litigation partner at the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.  Upon leaving the federal bench, Chief Judge Walker plans to return to the private sector.

In his letter to the President, Chief Judge Walker said: “Concluding twenty-one 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.”

By statute, United States district chief judges are selected based on a combination of age, seniority and experience and may serve in the post for a maximum of seven years. 28 USC § 136. By application of this statute, District Judge James Ware will assume the post of chief judge of the Northern District on January 1, 2011.