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The California Supreme Court should dispense with the dilly-dallying. It’s time to stop allowing judges to belong to nonprofit youth organizations that discriminate against gays — most notably the Boy Scouts of America. Since December, Chief Justice Ronald George and the court have been considering such a change in the Code of Judicial Ethics. It’s taken them far too long. This is not an issue bathed in gray hues. It’s black and white; right vs. wrong; justice and evenhandedness thwarting oppression and inequality. Judges are public servants who willingly give up some of their rights for positions of prestige and immense power. When they swear their oaths, they surrender their ability to take inappropriate stands on political issues; they must adhere to conflict-of-interest restrictions; and yes, they even give up some of their rights of free association. The Code of Judicial Ethics already bans membership in any organization that “practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.” If judges truly had full rights of free association, they could join the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Brotherhood with impunity. “Intrinsic to this code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must � strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.” Belonging to discriminatory groups, the code says, “diminishes public confidence in the integrity of and impartiality of the judiciary.” Yet there’s an incongruous exemption from the discrimination policy: Judges, the code says, can belong to a nonprofit youth organization no matter whether the group welcomes all or is a backwater of belligerent, anti-gay sentiment. Eradicating the youth organization clause isn’t going to damage the Scouts. Despite the Scouts’ morally bankrupt decision to promote bigotry and discrimination among the nation’s youth, the organization will still be able to wrap itself in the flag and mutter its radical-right homilies to the delight of scores of hate-mongering homophobes. Allowing the youth organization exemption, however, does do great harm to gays and lesbians. It shreds the sapling of trust the California judiciary has worked to plant in the gay community and honors a history rife with court-sanctioned discrimination. We are not so far from the days where gay men and lesbians were hustled into courts, humiliated and handed the lifetime stigma of sex offender. Judges played a huge part in furthering this pernicious injustice. (And some federal judges — see Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 — continue to perpetuate a vile standard of state-sanctioned hate.) California’s judiciary has attempted — and in many ways succeeded — in transforming the state’s courtrooms into places where everyone can expect to get a fair hearing. It’s not a perfect system. But gays and lesbians need not automatically assume that they will lose their cases simply because of their sexual orientation. This confidence is shaken when a judge maintains membership in an organization that flagrantly rubs its discriminatory behavior in everyone’s face. It’s not as if the Scouts have kept their policies a secret. They took their case for keeping gays out of their group all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judges, by definition, are highly educated — and one would hope — intelligent and resourceful. If they want to serve youth in their communities, they can find another way. Maintaining membership in the Scouts is, at this point, a decision that has but one purpose: to say to a segment of the community that they are less than everyone else and that their feelings about impartiality and fairness are irrelevant. The bar associations of San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Alameda counties have all come out in support of ending the youth organization exemption. That gives the justices some political cover. Now it’s time for George and his colleagues to get off the fence: Dump the clause and ensure that all Californians have a reasonable expectation of a just, fair and impartial bench.

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