Back when US District Court Judge Martin Feldman struck down the Obama administration's moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left side of the blogosphere about alleged conflicts of interest. Kate Sheppard, for example, made much of the fact that the judge had "interests in Transocean—the world's largest offshore drilling company and the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig—as well as other energy companies engaged in offshore oil extraction." Likewise, as Walter Olson reported, left-leaning activists went after the 5th Circuit judges who upheld Feldman's decision because two of them had represented oil clients years before while in private practice.
Now Gerard Bradley has had the temerity to raise the open secret that Judge Vaughan Walker -- who just struck down California's ban on same sex marriage -- is gay. For which Bradley is now being excoriated by the left side of the blogosphere. (See, e.g., Benen.)
Did Judge Walker's sexuality affect his decision? I have no idea. Is there a double standard here? Maybe. But that's not my point.
Accusing a judge of partiality is about as serious an accusation as one can make in the legal system. Unfortunately, as we've seen, these days it's become all too routine to accuse judges who render decisions we don't like of having done so for reasons of partisan or personal bias. One wonders whether, in the long run, this will have an adverse impact on our legal system by undermining public trust in the impartiality of that system.
I suppose it would be naive of me to suggest that pundits ought to reserve accusations of judicial bias -- even by implication -- for cases where there is evidence of a serious and palpable conflict of interest.
But I think I'll suggest it anyway.