This Week in Conservative Media: Prop 8 Judge on Trial

Surprisingly, conservative media hasn’t been as outspoken as gay-rights supporters as many had expected this first week of the gay marriage trial in San Francisco. Instead of covering the substance of the trial, the interest seems mostly focused on Judge Vaughn Walker and calling into question his impartiality.

Commentator Ed Whelan (who was also quoted in NEWSWEEK’s profile of Ted Olson), writing for Bench Memos in The National Review’s The Corner, argues that the Supreme Court order indefinitely barring broadcasting of the trial “derails Judge Walker’s plan to turn the case into a high-profile, culture-transforming, history-making, Scopes-style show trial of the sponsors of Proposition 8.” That order, he says “strongly signals that at least five justices have serious questions about his impartiality and judgment in this matter.”

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski is also questioned by Whelan, who says he has “earned a reputation as a headstrong maverick” whose course of conduct in the trial would make a victory for gay-marriage supporters “even more suspect.”

The Wall Street Journal ran a much-discussed headline describing Judge Walker as “quirky.” When Walker was first nominated in 1987, "Democrats assailed the nomination because Judge Walker was member of an all-male private club. (He resigned his membership during the nomination process.) Gay-rights activists protested his appointment because, as a private lawyer, he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a copyright suit against an organization called the Gay Olympics. But since Judge Walker was appointed to the bench in 1989, he has proved to be 'unpredictable, both politically and judicially,' said Rory Little, a professor at Hastings College of the Law who has handled cases in front of the Judge Walker.”

The Wall Street Journal piece also drew on Edwin Meese’s op-ed in The New York Times in which he called into question Walker’s impartiality in the case. “Judge Walker’s decisions have been surprising because they differ from those of other judges who have previously scrutinized marriage laws─in Iowa, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and elsewhere in California, for example.”

What is lacking in conservative media coverage of the trial, is extensive coverage of the trial itself─an examination of the topics discussed. One exception was, which is running stories by AP reporter Lisa Leff. In one, she details earlier comments of a key litigant, viewed on video in the courtroom. “A proponent of California's same-sex marriage ban warned voters in a letter during the 2008 campaign that gay rights activists would try to legalize sex with children if same-sex couples had the right to wed, according to evidence presented Wednesday in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure.”