SAN FRANCISCO -- Vaughn R. Walker, the federal judge who ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, will leave the bench at the end of the year for the private sector, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco announced Wednesday.
A media liaison for the court said Walker's decision was unrelated to his August ruling that found a ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution.
Walker presided over an unprecedented federal trial earlier this year that examined a wide array of questions about gays and lesbians, including whether sexual orientation can be changed and whether same-sex unions differ much from opposite-sex unions.
Walker, 66, a Republican appointee considered a conservative with a libertarian bent, has served as a federal district judge for nearly 21 years and as chief judge of the San Francisco-based court since 2004.
A statement by the court said only that Walker would "return to the private sector." The media liaison said another statement about his future plans may be released in the next month or so.
Walker's ruling overturning Proposition 8, which is now being appealed, prompted outrage from conservatives and a scathing condemnation from the lawyers for the proponents of the 2008 ballot measure.
In a brief filed earlier this month in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for ProtectMarriage argued that Walker ignored the law and suggested that he was biased.
Supporters of same-sex marriage have embraced the ruling, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Attorney General Jerry Brown have refused to appeal it.
The 9th Circuit will hold a hearing in December to determine whether ProtectMarriage and other Proposition 8 supporters have legal authority to appeal, and if so, whether Walker's ruling should stand.
Walker informed President Barack Obama of his decision in a letter.
"Concluding twenty-one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system," Walker wrote.
District chief judges are selected based on age, seniority and experience and may serve for a maximum of seven years. Walker's term would have expired next August. The court said District Judge James Ware will become chief judge in January.