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,, 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. This state's high court has spoken, the fair question is answered. Years ago the Seventh Circuit footnoted the following in the context of court access: "[2] Dr. Bowman's report specifically stated that Brown "firmly believes he is obligated as a Christian to put obedience to God's laws above human laws." Dr. Bowman further noted that Brown expressed "devaluing attitudes towards pharmacological or psycho-therapeutic mental health treatment" and that he made "sarcastic remarks devaluing authority of all types, especially mental health authority and the abortion industry." 668 F.3d 437 (2012) SUCH acid testing of statist orthodoxy is just and meet in Indiana. SUCH INQUISITIONS have been green lighted. Christians and conservatives beware.

  2. It was all that kept us from tyranny. So sad that so few among the elite cared enough to guard the sacred trust. Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law. Sophocles No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor. Theodore Roosevelt That was the ideal ... here is the Hoosier reality: The King can do no wrong. Legal maxim From the Latin 'Rex non potest peccare'. When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal. Richard Nixon

  3. So men who think they are girls at heart can use the lady's potty? Usually the longer line is for the women's loo, so, the ladies may be the ones to experience temporary gender dysphoria, who knows? Is it ok to joke about his or is that hate? I may need a brainwash too, hey! I may just object to my own comment, later, if I get myself properly "oriented"

  4. Heritage, what Heritage? The New Age is dawning .... an experiment in disordered liberty and social fragmentation is upon us .... "Carmel City Council approved a human rights ordinance with a 4-3 vote Monday night after hearing about two hours of divided public testimony. The ordinance bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, among other traits. Council members Rick Sharp, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam and Ron Carter voted in favor of it. The three council members opposing it—Luci Snyder, Kevin Rider and Eric Seidensticker—all said they were against any form of discrimination, but had issues with the wording and possible unintended consequences of the proposal." Kardashian is the new Black.

  5. Can anyone please tell me if anyone is appealing the law that certain sex offenders can't be on school property. How is somebody supposed to watch their children's sports games or graduations, this law needs revised such as sex offenders that are on school property must have another non-offender adult with them at all times while on school property. That they must go to the event and then leave directly afterwards. This is only going to hurt the children of the offenders and the father/ son mother/ daughter vice versa relationship. Please email me and let me know if there is a group that is appealing this for reasons other than voting and religion. Thank you.