Prop. 8 Trial: Fade to Black
Just as I was rejoicing over U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to allow the federal trial over Prop. 8 to be broadcast on YouTube, the Supreme Court threw a wrench into the mix by imposing a stay on the tapings.
The black out lasts only until Wednesday – but that it was imposed at all is troubling. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that while having cameras in the courtroom is not an expressed right, judges may allow them at their discretion. California Rule of Court 1.150 (which governs California state courts), the “cameras rule,” similarly leaves it to the judges to decide whether to allow cameras, and enumerates 18 factors that must be considered in making the determination.
The Judicial Council of California has found that since first enacting the rule in 1984, “Courts grant the majority of requests for media coverage.”
Arguments against cameras in the courtroom inevitably center on the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, the right to a fair trial and an impartial jury (the amendment refers to criminal trials, but the Supreme Court has applied that right to all proceedings, via the due process clause in the 14th Amendment).
Those in favor of banning cameras in the Prop. 8 trial insist that the broadcasts would be harmful to witnesses. That’s an argument that could be believable in a criminal case, but not here. If people wish to enshrine their hatred in law, they should have to do so in front of a watching public, not just a judge behind closed doors. Moreover, the people actually testifying are likely to be academic experts, and are therefore not likely to be flummoxed by cameras, since their careers often involve weighing in on issues of public concern.
The Judicial Council found that camera requests are granted most of the time – so when it comes to a hotly contested issue that’s of interest to so many people across the entire country – cameras in the courtroom should continue to be the rule, not the exception.