Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Supreme Court Bans TV Broadcasts in Proposition 8 Trial

From the San Francisco Chronicle, "High Court Bans TV, YouTube for Same-Sex Trial":

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, presiding over the trial, had not given the public enough time to comment before he approved live telecasts of the trial to be shown in several courthouses around the country and delayed uploads to posted on YouTube.

The justices also said Walker had picked the wrong case to televise under a just-started pilot program allowing some nonjury civil trials heard in federal court to be aired. No federal trial in California has ever been shown on TV or the Internet.

The ruling permanently bars a broadcast that the high court temporarily blocked just before the trial started Monday at the federal courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave. Opponents of Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative that prohibited same-sex marriage, are suing to overturn the measure as a denial of equal protection of the law ....

Today's ruling means the only place people can watch the case on TV is in a 19th floor conference room at the Golden Gate Avenue courthouse that seats about 150. Thirty-six seats are available to the public for the trial itself in Walker's courtroom on the 17th floor.

The Supreme Court, which has refused to televise its own proceedings, said it was not ruling on the legality of airing federal trials. But the court said it has recognized that "witness testimony may be chilled if broadcast," even the testimony of paid expert witnesses.

Even if the rules had been followed, "this case is ... not a good one for a pilot program," because the potential for harm is greater in a contentious, high-profile case, the court said.

The ruling was issued by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito.

The dissenters were the court's more liberal members, Justices Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stephens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, the newest justice.

Breyer, writing for the dissenters, said the public had ample opportunity to comment, there was no evidence that witnesses would be harmed, and those outside the courthouse were losing an opportunity to view a trial of "great public interest."
See also SCOTUS Blog, "Prop. 8 Trial TV Blocked." (Via Memeorandum.) The Court's decision is here, "DENNIS HOLLINGSWORTH ET AL. v. KRISTIN M. PERRY ET AL. - ON APPLICATION FOR STAY."

Notice how the Court sharply divided, 5-4, on traditional left-right lines. As is always the case, critics will decry the lack of "consensus" and we'll likely see heightened demand for publicly-televised broadcasts in hot-button cases, especially decisions involving gay rights. (See, "
Prop. 8 Trial Video Barred -- For Now.") And radicals at Firedoglake are already attacking Court's conservative majority:

It is curious that the Supreme Court is fine with a video feed to other locations in the same courthouse as the trial, but not to other secure Federal courthouses. Again, it must be assumed this is all about insuring that the objecting five pompous justices never have to have their demeanor and conduct seen by the citizens they serve. As I explained in the previous post, the Supreme Court, in Chandler v. Florida, has already admitted it is not about constitutional due process; therefore it is, whether admitted or not, about their vanity and elitism.

When the Supreme Court, in its opinion, says:

We are asked to stay the broadcast of a federal trial. We resolve that question withoiut expession any view on whether such trials shold be broadcast. We instead determine that the broadcast in this case should be stayed because it appears the courts below did not follow the appropriate procedures set forth in federal law before changing their rules to allow such broadcasting. Courts enforce the requirements of procedural regularity on others, and must follow those requirements ourselves.
[It] sure strikes me that the Court’s basis for finding the Local rule was violated, or inappropriately amended, is strained. At best. Others may differ, but for my money, this has everything to do with the inherent prejudices and fears of the majority Justices.
Keep an eye out for this kind of leftist demonology as the case moves foreward. The trial case will be appealed to the intermediate level no matter the outcome, and it's likely that the Supremes will ultimately hear the case as some point. My concern is Anthony Kennedy. He's the key author of the amorphous "evolving standards of decency" doctrine that was used to strike down capital punishment for defendants in capital cases under the age of 18. Plus, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas (here), the 2003 decision overturning Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and extending a constitutional right sexual privacy for homosexuals. Kennedy drew on international legal precedent for parts of the ruling, as well as the Court's earlier jurisprudence in abortion rights (the "doctrine of penumbras," creating a right to privacy for reproductive rights); and Lawrence's benevolent language about "enduring, personal bonds" in gay relationships was interpreteted at the time as perhaps setting the groundwork for the legalization of gay marriage.)

So, perhaps the
Firedoglake extremists might pay more attention the Court's previous rulings before excoriating the very Justices who in the end may rule in their favor.

Justice Anthony Kennedy and Our Schizophrenic Supreme Court."