Logical Analysis – The Relevance of Judge Vaughn Walker’s Sexual Orientation

“Logic” is the word we use for certain ways to chain ideas. But I doubt that pure deductive logic plays much of a role in ordinary thinking. (Marvin Minksky in The Society of Mind)

I have a natural inclination towards analyzing the logic or rationality (or lack therefore) in people’s arguments. I am going to start a ‘series’ of posts where I take a quote from a news article or some other post and give a quote from it and ask people to analyze the flaws in the logic of the argument. The next day I’ll do a follow on post with my own analysis of the quote.

I will always post my analysis in advanced and I will not change it based on other people’s comments. Therefore I will have no advantage in my logical analysis over any comments.

Today, I have a quote from a news article that concerns whether or not Judge Vaugh Walker’s sexual orientation is relevant to his actions as a judge ruling on proposition 8. Conservatives in the article argue it is, liberals in the article argue it is not.

First, A Warning On the Limits of Rationality

Now I want to warn people that this series is only about analyzing reason and logic. It is not about the subject of the original news article, in this case gay marriage. Learning to leave your emotions and your politics at the door and being able to analyze the rationality of an argument is a good skill to learn.

However, I must confess, that I do not feel that logic and rationality is the end all and be all of our existence. The simple truth is that we are all capable of rationality, but rarely need it or use it. In fact, there is a very good reason why this is the case.

It’s because Pure Rationality rarely applies in real life.

True rationality is pure logical deduction. It’s where the facts force everyone to agree. For example, assuming no equivocation of words, consider the following logical deduction:

  • Sally is a woman.
  • Bob is not a woman.
  • Therefore Bob is not Sally.

This rarely happens in real life. Outside of contrived circumstances, you will find that making choices based on logical deduction – pure rationality – happens maybe 0.001% of the time.

The rest of the time, we are forced to make choices without enough facts to support a decision via only rationality. Therefore, we must make decisions based on our default assumptions which we take from our world view, our ethics, our emotionality. We must make decisions based on the ‘facts’ we currently think we have even though we may later find some of the ‘facts’ were not facts after all.

This is real life and we should learn to accept this. We are not rational creatures and thank goodness we are not. A true rational creature would be like the donkey that starves to death between two piles of food due to the lack of ability to decide which one it should eat first. Emotional and non-rational decision making is an evolutionary survival tactic.

Good or Bad Logic Doesn’t Make You Right or Wrong

Therefore, when I analyze logic, please understand that the end result of any such analysis never implies that the person using bad logic was right or wrong. It only implies there was a problem with their argument.

I recently made a post about the fact that it’s possible to make a bad rational argument and still turn out to be correct. The reverse is also true. Someone can make a perfectly rational argument (say believing there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because 11 out of 13 intelligence agencies claim there are) and yet turn out to be completely wrong. Deductive reasoning plays little or no role in real life.

This is also why intelligent people can disagree on almost any issues. It’s because rationally it’s usually impossible to draw any definitive conclusions on any issues that don’t directly rely on our hidden assumptions about the world.

Does Judge Walker’s Alleged Sexuality Compromise His Ability to Make a Good Judgment?

I came across a quote from this article on Judge Vaughn Walker’s alledged sexual orientation. The article is about Judge Walker’s recent ruling to over turn proposition 8. Apparently some conservatives feel that there is evidence that Judge Walker is himself homosexual and therefore they are suspicious of his neutrality on this issue. Liberals argue that his sexual orientation should not be considered relevant to his role as Judge on Prop 8 at all.

Here is the argument I wish to analyze. The goal is to analyze the problems (or potential problems) on both sides:

And Byran Fischer, issues director for the American Family Association, urged the group’s members to contact their congressional representatives about launching impeachment proceedings because Walker had not recused himself from a case in which “his own personal sexual proclivities utterly compromised his ability to make an impartial ruling.”

William G. Ross, an expert on judicial ethics and law professor at Samford University in Alabama, said that a judge’s sexual orientation has no more relevance to his or her ability to rule fairly on a case involving gay marriage than it would for a deeply religious judge or a judge who had been divorced multiple times.

“Under the logic of the people challenging the judge’s fitness to rule on a case involving gay rights because he or she was gay, one would have to find a eunuch to serve on the case, because one could just as easily argue that a heterosexual judge couldn’t rule on it either,” Ross said.

Some questions to help get you thinking:

  1. What is the relevance of personal biases to the role of a jury or judge? Why do we consider it important?
  2. What does the court system do to try to remove biases?
  3. What is the connection, if any, between one’s sexual orientation and one’s bias on Prop 8?

Also, look for any arguments by analogy. As I argued in this post arguments by analogy can be easily disproven by the positive existence of an analogy closer to real life that doesn’t allow the same conclusion to be drawn.

It doesn’t actually matter how many people liked the previous analogy because presumably their own biases can cause them to like a bad analogy because it supported their prefered conclusion. Once we have a better analogy, we rationally need to drop the worse one in favor of it and make our arguments based on that.

7 thoughts on “Logical Analysis – The Relevance of Judge Vaughn Walker’s Sexual Orientation

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  2. Bruce, I left you along, brilliant comment but it got deleted by our wonderful software (readers, if this happens to you, you are not alone!).

    Anyway, to sum up, the logic of claiming Judge Walker should recuse himself is faulty based on what we know so far about Judge Walker. However, if it were to be proven that he is an anti-Prop. 8 activist or has secretly always wanted to shoot down man-woman marriage, then this new information could change the logical decision and would point toward recusal and perhaps even impeachment. I have no information that says that — my only point is that logical decisions can change based on new information.

  3. 1. I’m not sure this question even needs to be asked.
    2. They offer judges the option to recuse themselves, and weed out jurors. We trust both these things will be done fairly.
    3. I am assuming you are talking about the judge’s bias, and not the general population. We assume that judges will follow their own conscience and recuse themselves when necessary. I trust every judge to do just that. It appears to me from reading the judgment that this judge was biased, however-I have no reason to believe it was because he is gay (although he may be gay–it’s just not relevant).

    It seems the logic on the right is:
    1. judge is part of suspect class
    2. suspect class person can’t be unbiased
    3. suspect class judges should recuse themselves

    So that would only follow: black judge can’t take affirmative action cases; female judge can’t take some sexual harassment cases or many cases to do with gender- abortion; religious judge can’t hear freedom of religion cases—and nor can an atheist one.

    I am supposing that the right feels that this judge had too much to personally gain or lose in the case. However, could they then say the same thing about a married judge? A married judge who feels like gay marriage is a personal threat to marriage?

  4. If the argument is that heterosexual married couples have something to lose (or society in general has something to lose) if gay marriage happens, then, by this logic, it would be impossible to find a judge (because all judges are necessarily a member of society).

    I think that the process of judges recusing themselves isn’t a perfect system, but it is the best one that we have. There is no way to eliminate bias, but keeping judges honor-bound to attempt to eliminate their own bias is probably the best way to deal with it. Otherwise, the process of judicial selection will become even more fraught.

    I suppose that one could call for impeachment, but unless the judge is wildly unpopular (which this judge isn’t) or the ruling is wildly unpopular (which this ruling isn’t) it’s unlikely to get far. Or criminal, in either case, which this ruling isn’t.

  5. This issue was faced squarely by Judge Constance Baker Motley in Blank v. Sullivan & Cromwell, 418 F. Supp. 1 (1975). Sullivan & Cromwell asked Judge Motley to disqualify herself from deciding a Title VII case because she was a woman and a former civil rights lawyer:

    Defendant further seeks my disqualification on the ground that I “strongly identified with those who suffered discrimination in employment because of sex or race”, and offers as support for this “identification” an eloquent quote, attributed to me, on the crippling effects of discrimination…. It is beyond dispute that for much of my legal career I worked on behalf of blacks who suffered race discrimination. I am a woman, and before being elevated to the bench, was a woman lawyer. These obvious facts, however, clearly do not, ipso facto, indicate or even suggest the personal bias or prejudice required by § 144. The assertion, without more, that a judge who engaged in civil rights litigation and who happens to be of the same sex as a plaintiff in a suit alleging sex discrimination on the part of a law firm, is, therefore, so biased that he or she could not hear the case, comes nowhere near the standards required for recusal. Indeed, if background or sex or race of each judge were, by definition, sufficient grounds for removal, no judge on this court could hear this case, or many others, by virtue of the fact that all of them were attorneys, of a sex, often with distinguished law firm or public service backgrounds.

    The idea that white heterosexual men can be neutral while others cannot is so pervasive that even many of us who are not heterosexual white males reflexively think that way. It needs to be challenged.

  6. also:

    “The idea that white heterosexual men can be neutral while others cannot is so pervasive that even many of us who are not heterosexual white males reflexively think that way. It needs to be challenged.”

    Nate W, this is a good approach that I hadn’t even considered before. This type of thinking is part of a much larger cultural problem that has nothing to do with homosexuality per se, but the emotionality of the debate can blind us to that.

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