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Editorial: SCOTUS order in Proposition 8 trial chills

Editorial Indiana Lawyer
January 20, 2010
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Indiana Lawyer Editorial


It sounded too good be true, so we weren't surprised when we found out it was not to be.

We were intrigued and excited at the prospect of actually witnessing the Proposition 8 trial, Kristin M. Perry v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even on a time-delayed, YouTube basis. Some of us on staff are familiar with the entertainment Web site, youtube.com, while others of us admit to only watching an occasional and quite silly video at the insistence of one of our children. The prospect of witnessing something of historic importance on this Web site had us and countless others who wanted a chance to see the trial full of hope.

It appears the YouTube broadcasting was dropped in favor of trying to preserve the ability to stream video of the trial to other federal courthouses.

But then the United States Supreme Court intervened. In the end, the plan to stream video of the trial regarding the same-sex marriage prohibition to several courthouses across the nation was limited to streaming trial footage to other rooms in the federal courthouse where the trial is taking place in the Northern District of California.

The somewhat snarky yet entirely civil language in letters and decisions back and forth among the jurists involved in this decision has made for some compelling reading.

First there is the Jan. 8 letter from the secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States to Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The letter asks Judge Kozinski to consider the conference's policy, "which does not allow courtroom proceedings in civil and criminal trials in district courts to be broadcast, televised, recorded, or photographed for the purpose of public dissemination."

Judge Kozinski quite cordially replied two days later, one day before the trial was scheduled to begin, that there is in fact no such policy in place, as it is up to the judicial council of each circuit to make such decisions. The judge said the court has responded to public demands for "transparency from its public institutions" by making "digital audio recordings of each appellate argument available to the public" on its Web site. He also says that a "substantial" number of arguments are video recorded and broadcast.

The judge then outlined the decisionmaking process that went into what he called the "pilot program" to experiment with the use of video in non-jury civil cases. Perry v. Schwarzenegger is one of these.

Near the end of the letter is the real zinger. The judge wrote: "Like it or not, we are now well into the Twenty-First Century, and it is up to those of us who lead the federal judiciary to adopt policies that are consistent with the spirit of the times and the advantages afforded us by new technology. If we do not, Congress will do it for us."

In an unsigned 5-4 decision Jan. 13, the United States Supreme Court granted the stay of the decision to make video of the case available to the public, in essence pulling the plug on the cameras. The majority found that District Court failed to follow the rules for amending its court rules. The majority is concerned with the witnesses who support Proposition 8 and fears for their safety if the trial were permitted to be broadcast to the public.

The dissent, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor, says that there was ample consideration of the court's intention to make the trial available to the public via cameras in the courtroom. He accuses the majority of micromanaging the lower court.

Justice Breyer also doesn't buy the argument that those who would testify about their support of Proposition 8 have reason to fear for their safety. "They are all experts or advocates who have either already appeared on television or Internet broadcasts, already toured the State advocating a 'yes' vote on Proposition 8, or already engaged in extensive public commentary far more likely to make them well known than a closed-circuit broadcast to another federal courthouse," he wrote.

The majority made much of the potential for the testimony from the witnesses in support of Proposition 8 to be "chilled if broadcast." That led us to think about the kinds of hate-filled and venominspired comments about the news of the day that appears on some blogs and newspaper Web sites. We believe less anonymity in those kinds of instances would do a lot to chill this offensive kind of speech; few things clean up a person's words quite like the necessity of attaching your own name to them. We believe the same could be true for courtrooms via cameras.

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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