Against the Charlatans

Dahlia Lithwick notes that the real target of Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling was Anthony Kennedy. But more than that, I was taken by her view that the trial pitted rationalism against, well, nothing:


It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn't much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would "effect some twenty-three harmful consequences" and then putting on almost no case.

Walker notes that the plaintiffs presented eight lay witnesses and nine expert witnesses, including historians, economists, psychologists, and a political scientist. Walker lays out their testimony in detail. Then he turns to the proponents' tactical decision to withdraw several of their witnesses, claiming "extreme concern about their personal safety" and unwillingness to testify if there were to be "recording of any sort." Even when it was determined that there would be no recording, counsel declined to call them. They were left with two trial witnesses, one of whom, David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, the judge found "lacks the qualifications to offer opinion testimony and, in any event, failed to provide cogent testimony in support of proponent's factual assertions." Blankenhorn's credentials, methodology, lack of peer-reviewed studies, and general shiftiness on cross examination didn't impress Walker.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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