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News Posted on April 16, 2012

Judge Vaughn Walker Delivers Bill Smith Memorial Lecture

Judge Vaughn WalkerJudge Vaughn Walker, former Chief Judge of the North District of California and author of the initial opinion striking down California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, delivered the 11th Annual Bill F. Smith Memorial Lecture on April 11 in the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom. 

Sponsored by the Lambda Law Students, the event also included the presentation of the organization's Faculty/Professor of the Year award to Assistant Dean Sharon Pinkney, presentation of Alumna of the Year to Natalie Wormeli '93, and presentation of the Bill Smith Memorial Public Interest Fellowship to Bradley Showman '14. 

Judge Walker, who retired last year after 22 years of service on the federal bench, generally avoided direct reference to his ruling on Proposition 8 and focused more broadly on the concepts that should guide federal judges in politically charged cases.  He spoke at length on the metaphor put forward by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and others suggesting that federal judges should be like baseball umpires calling balls and strikes, impartially enforcing the rules.  The Constitution, Walker said, "is phrased in sweeping generalities so that it hardly compares to the well-defined strike zone Senator Sessions references."  Antitrust cases, for example, usually turn on the question of what constitutes an "unreasonable" restraint of trade, with judges being called upon to determine what is and isn't reasonable, he said.  In the same way that an umpires' strike zone changes from batter to batter, judges are called upon to make decisions according to the specific circumstances of each case that comes before them, Judge Walker said.

Asked by a student during the question-and-answer session that followed his lecture about a possible U.S. Supreme Court review of his decision on Proposition 8, Judge Walker affably declined to make any predictions.  "I'm not in that business anymore," he said.

The Bill Smith Memorial Lecture honors the memory of Bill Smith '98, who died in 2001.  While at King Hall, Smith was the president of the Lambda Law Students, won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award, and worked on behalf of LGBT and disability-oriented civil rights.  Upon graduation, he practiced employment and family law.