California | Frank Rich | Gay Marriage | Proposition 8

Frank Rich: Prop 8 Expert 'Unqualified'

In his column in the NY Times today, Frank Rich makes note about David Blankenhorn, a so-called marriage expert, called to the stand by Prop 8 supporters in the federal case in California. Blankenhorn is president of the Institute for American Values, a wingnut organization "devoted to contributing intellectually to the renewal of marriage."

Writes Rich: 

DBlankenhorn holds no degree in such seemingly relevant fields as psychology, psychiatry or sociology. But his pretrial research did include reading a specious treatise by George Rekers, the antigay evangelist now notorious for his recent 10-day European trip with a young male companion procured from And Blankenhorn’s testimony relies on the same sweeping generalization as Rekers — that children raised by two biological parents are so advantaged that all alternatives should be shunned.

What was the unqualified Blankenhorn doing at the Prop 8 trial? Like Rekers, who had a lucrative history of testifying for pay in legal cases attacking gay civil rights, he also profits from his propaganda. Public documents, including tax returns, reveal that Blankenhorn’s institute, financed by such right-wing stalwarts as the Bradley and Scaife foundations, paid him $247,500 in base salary in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, and another $70,000 to his wife. Not a bad payday for a self-professed arbiter of American marital values who under oath described his sole peer-reviewed academic paper (from the University of Warwick) as “a study of two cabinetmakers’ unions in 19th-century Britain.” That the Prop 8 proponents employed him as their star witness suggests that no actual experts could be found (or rented) to match his disparagement of gay parents.

Closing arguments for the trial on Prop 8 will take place on Wednesday. Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding, has requested that lawyers on both sides answer 39 questions he has produced before then.

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  1. no wonder they want to fight our civil rights tooth and nail. They're making a killing at it. Good to know these god fearing christians have made a cottage industry out of our suffering. They can all go to hell where they belong.

    Posted by: gaylib | Jun 13, 2010 12:13:52 PM

  2. I haven't followed this trial as closely as I would have liked; meaning I'm uncertain as to whether or not transcripts were made available to the public.

    However, how is it possible that his credentials were NOT put to the test during his deposition. If you're going to be make sweeping claims like he apparently did, don't opposing lawyers gather background information to question his qualifications on cross-exam?

    Then again, look how far Rekers got with his self-hating, closeted bullshit. Sounds to me like there are a bunch of lazy lawyers. Hopefully, that's not the case here.

    Posted by: Keith | Jun 13, 2010 12:41:24 PM

  3. Normally to testify as an expert, your credentials must be approved by the judge before testimony. It's possible Boies and Olson didn't challenege the clown, knowing he'd look foolish. It's possible the judge took the same approach. Either way, it's a good sign for us.

    Posted by: JusticeontheRocks | Jun 13, 2010 12:50:22 PM

  4. what are the rules of evidence regarding the testimony of expert witnesses in the US? here in canada, expert witnesses have to first testify in a voir dire as to their expertise in whatever field that is of relevance to the case. they have to indicate to the court where they have been educated, what research they have done in their field, what sort of supplementary courses/training they have taken on top of their university studies, how many times they have been qualified in court as an expert in their field, etc. they also have to submit a detailed curriculum vitae as an exhibit to the court, that details all the information that they have provided in their viva voce evidence. at the end of the voir dire, the judge would then have to make a finding that qualifies the expert witness as an expert in his/her field before being allowed to testify in the trial proper.

    so, for instance, a toxicologist is called in by the crown as an expert witness in a sex assault case involving alcohol, and testifies to the amount of alcohol that could have been in the bloodstream of the complainant at the time of the sex assault (this calculation would have been based on the amount of alcohol there was in the complainant's bloodstream when s/he went to the rape crisis centre). here in canada, that toxicologist would first have been called to the stand in a voir dire and testified as to his/her expertise. the trial judge would then have had to give a ruling as to whether that toxicologist is qualied as an expert in toxicology for the purposes of the trial proper. if the toxicologist's evidence satisfies the judge, then s/he is qualified as an expert. if the toxicologist's evidence fails to satisfy the judge, then s/he is not qualified to testify as an expert witness in the trial proper, and the crown cannot call that toxicologist as a witness for their case.

    it doesn't seem to me that there is any sort of equivalent to that voir dire process in the american trial system. it seems to me that, in the US, anyone that has been declared a witness by any party involved in the case can take the stand in the trial proper, without any sort of prior determination as to whether their evidence will be relevant or not. am i wrong? how is it that david blackenhorn was able to take the stand, if he doesn't even have any educational background that would qualify him to make expert opinions on marriage and on the raising of children? without even that basic requirement, he's just giving personal opinions, which is entirely irrelevant to this trial.

    Posted by: raphinou | Jun 13, 2010 12:51:00 PM

  5. Keith:

    There is no way that the Olson/Boise team did not take into account the best strategy for winning this trial. Perhaps, as the pro-Hate8 side's only so-called expert witness, it was determined that allowing Blankenhorn show that there truly are no real qualified experts advocating the pro-Hate8 position, ridiculing him and his positions in the process, makes a stronger case in the lawsuit and the sure-to-be appeals processes.

    Posted by: Mike in Asheville | Jun 13, 2010 12:53:50 PM

  6. oh poop.

    this is what happens when you write a really long comment: you ask a question that has been answered by previous comments.

    seriously, it's not that i can't read a thread. i swear that, when i first started writing my comment, there was only gaylib's comment on the board. ^_^;

    Posted by: raphinou | Jun 13, 2010 12:56:46 PM

  7. It's my understanding that Olson/Boise did and still are challenging his legitimacy as an expert witness. There are still a number of pending motions that Judge Walker has not yet ruled on, and one is whether Blenkenhorn's testimony will be accepted.

    Given the limited number of witnesses the Defense was able to produce and the (specious) allegations from the right that Judge Walker has been biased from the start against the Defense, I suspect he will allow the testimony to remain in the record but then rip it to shreds in his ruling.

    Posted by: Kevin | Jun 13, 2010 1:19:34 PM

  8. @RAPHINOU - I don't know all the ins and outs of the U.S. legal process, but I followed the Prop 8 trial pretty closely. It's my understanding that the U.S. does require that witnesses be vetted and their credentials be substantiated, but the legal system does give a fair amount of latitude. And courts, even when they accept a witness' expertise, are allowed to weigh that accordingly (a witness with 20 years of experience may count for more than a witness with only 3).

    Judge Walker did give the defense a certain amount of deference. One of the explanations he made to the plaintiffs was that because this is a trial before just a judge, he can weigh testimony accordingly, something that he'd be a little more cautious about if the testimony was presented to a jury.

    The defense also challenged the expertise of the plaintiffs' witnesses, which was kind of awesome because they then spent a lot of time on the stand demonstrating 20+ years of direct, personal study on what they were testifying about -- as opposed to the defense's witnesses who did not have degrees in any relevant fields and had only read other people's studies. And many of the studies the defense relied on were then torn to shreds by the plaintiffs' experts.

    Posted by: Kevin | Jun 13, 2010 1:30:49 PM

  9. Oh, and if anyone is interested in reading the transcripts of the trial, they are available at:

    Posted by: Kevin | Jun 13, 2010 1:36:03 PM

  10. The best? He was payed handsomely...

    But he was almost a hostile witness! You HAVE to read his testimony, it's just hilarious.

    ( ie:

    "Do you think children with same-sex parents would benefit from same-sex marriage?
    - yes." )

    Posted by: Charles | Jun 13, 2010 1:59:11 PM

  11. I'm unclear as to why the opponents of marriage equality always bring the rearing of children up anyway. There is no requirement for hetero couples to produce children in order to legally marry. And, there is no requirement for any couple, straight or gay, to be married in order to have children.

    I don't see what children have to do with whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal.

    Besides, every time the opponents bring up children, study after study is introduces showing that the children of same-sex couples do just as well as those of hetero couples.

    Posted by: Tim | Jun 13, 2010 2:05:59 PM

  12. Thanks Frank-as always-
    a champion of LGBT rights - a wonderful piece of journalism as always-

    Posted by: Nick | Jun 13, 2010 2:43:13 PM

  13. @KEVIN: i see. i forgot that it was a judge-alone trial. so, the US does have similar rules of evidence as canada. thanks!

    @TIM: interesting point. are you aware of this recent article from reuters?

    Posted by: raphinou | Jun 13, 2010 2:49:05 PM

  14. The focus on children may be aimed at the 6 catholic Supreme Court Justices since church doctrine is that sex=sin unless for procreation within a church-sanctioned marriage (conveniently ignoring the impotent, the infertile and the post-menopausal). How dare you allow SSM when that supports SIN and those poor children could be saved if only their biological parents did the right thing and got married? Will Joe Rat. and his Predators ex-communicate the justices who vote for SSM?

    The detrimental effects on children of NOT having married moms or married dads are never discussed - "born out of wedlock", "parents living in sin", "bastard" and similar epithets before getting around to the homophobic slurs.

    Posted by: Hue-Man | Jun 13, 2010 6:26:06 PM

  15. @ Raphinou
    @ Kevin: expert witness must establish himself as such before giving evidence here (Ireland)....but the voir dire process is preliminary, not so much a formal hearing. Once established to the satisfaction of the court he is allowed to continue with the expert evidence, subject to cross examination.
    And yes, that's a judge alone trial.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Jun 14, 2010 3:04:58 PM

  16. Rich, Krugman, and Brooks are the only regular editorialists worth bothering yourself with at the NYT.

    Posted by: TANK | Jun 14, 2010 3:19:09 PM

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