Prop. 8 appeal to go before judge with ACLU connections

Despite objections by gay-marriage opponents, 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt will not recuse himself

Published December 2, 2010 9:30PM (EST)

An attempt to oust a liberal judge from hearing a landmark gay marriage case in California ended Thursday almost as quickly as it began.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request that he recuse himself from the case because his wife, Ramona Ripston, is a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern California office.

The ACLU is an outspoken opponent of Proposition 8.

Supporters of the gay marriage ban argued in court papers Wednesday that the judge appointed by President Carter would have trouble remaining impartial because of his wife's link to the ACLU.

They noted Reinhardt had recused himself in the past when the ACLU was involved in cases before him and asked him to step down from the three-judge panel considering their appeal of a lower court decision striking down the gay marriage ban.

"I will be able to rule impartially on this appeal, and I will do so," Reinhardt said in his brief order.

Hours later, Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the organization that's pursuing the appeal, said it accepts Reinhardt's decision and will drop the recusal attempt.

"Our legal team is focused on the merits of our constitutional defense of Proposition 8," Pugno said. "With binding Supreme Court precedent and the will of a strong majority of Americans on our side, we are confident that Proposition 8 and the institution of marriage will ultimately prevail."

Reinhardt, who most famously voted with the majority in ruling the Pledge of Allegiance's "under god" clause violated the Constitution, and Judges N. Randy Smith and Michael Daly Hawkins are scheduled to hear two hours of oral arguments in San Francisco on Monday.

A ruling is expected later in the case most observers and participants believe is destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Paul Elias

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Gay Marriage