Judge Vaughn Walker presents Nichols Foundation Prominent Speaker Lecture

Former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California presented the Nichols Foundation Prominent Speaker Lecture at Stetson University College of Law on April 4.

Judge Walker helped strike down California’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2010, the first federal court decision declaring a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. He also presided over several notable high-profile cases including a copyright infringement lawsuit between Apple and Microsoft and matters dealing with NSA surveillance.

Judge Vaughn Walker

Judge Vaughn Walker spoke to Stetson students on April 4.

Judge Walker spoke to students about “Social Attitudes and the Law” in the Great Hall at Stetson Law.

“You will learn a few things about how the law works and how it applies,” Judge Walker told the students in the audience preparing to enter the legal field. He discussed how the law changes over time to reflect social change.

“Social change is very slow and in fact quite glacial,” said Judge Walker.

He described how the roles of African Americans in society have changed greatly since the 1700s, from citizens with restricted rights to President of the United States.

Judge Walker described how views of gays and lesbians have also changed in the U.S. and the connection between legal and social changes.

In 1973, the American Psychological Association stated that homosexuality is not a mental disease or defect. Increased prominence of gays and lesbians in the media and public life improved social acceptance, yet the legal landscape did not evolve the same way, Judge Walker said.

Judge Walker explained that the constitutional landscape as late as 1986 was still hostile to gays and lesbians. He described how a pivotal case, Lawrence v. Texas, determined that homosexual relationships had the same rights as heterosexual relationships.

“It was only in 2003 that the dam began to break on the legal front,” Judge Walker said.

The Nichols Foundation Prominent Speaker Series was established in 1995 to enrich academic life at Stetson. The series’ namesake is Perry Nichols, among the nation’s most successful trial lawyers and past president of both the American Trial Lawyers Association and International Trial Lawyers Association. Previous lecturers include prominent business leaders, government officials, legal scholars and practitioners.