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High court: no cameras at gay-marriage trial

By The Associated Press
01.13.10

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has indefinitely blocked cameras from covering the high-profile federal court trial on the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage.

The high court split 5-4 today, with the conservative justices in the majority.

Now in its third day, the trial in federal court in San Francisco is over the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

The presiding judge, Vaughn Walker, had proposed posting recordings of the trial on the district court's Web site after several hours of delay and allowing real-time streaming of the trial for viewing in other federal courthouses in California, New York, Oregon and Washington.

On Jan. 11, the Supreme Court responded to an emergency plea from gay-marriage opponents and temporarily prohibited any Internet postings or real-time streaming of the trial. The Court had said it needed more time to consider the issue.

In an unsigned opinion today, the high court criticized Walker for attempting to change the rules "at the eleventh hour to treat this case differently than other trials."

The majority ruled against streaming the trial to the other courts. The high court said it wasn't deciding the Web-site posting plan because Walker hadn't formally requested authorization for that proposal. Though the Court set no time limit in its ruling, any further proceedings at high court likely would come after the trial was over.

The four justices in dissent were Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and John Paul Stevens.

In a dissent written by Breyer, they said the high court should have stayed out of the issue.

Breyer said "the public interest weighs in favor of providing access to the courts."

The Court's majority, though not identified in the ruling, consists of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Though all 50 states allow cameras into some state-level court proceedings, federal courts from the high court on down have for decades generally refused to admit cameras into courtrooms.

Most federal courts say they fear broadcasts will diminish the system's dignity, could unfairly influence rulings and disrupt proceedings. There is also concern that judges, lawyers and witnesses will pander to the camera while potential jurors will shy away from serving out of concern that they will be identified.

Congress has failed several times to pass bills introduced specifically to allow the technology in the federal courts, though a new proposal with bipartisan support to allow cameras is pending before the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee.


Update
Judge in gay-marriage case abandons bid for Web broadcast
Day after high court indefinitely blocks his plan, Vaughn Walker says he's withdrawing his application to have case videotaped because he doesn't want issue to distract from trial itself. 01.15.10

Previous
Court blocks broadcast of Calif. gay-marriage trial
Justices say proceedings can't be posted on YouTube until they have more time to consider issue. 01.11.10

Related

High court to decide if petition signers' names are public

Gay-rights opponents in Washington state argue that publicity about them would lead to harassment. 01.15.10

Justices step directly into cameras-in-court debate

By Tony Mauro Plan to broadcast gay-marriage trial over Internet prompts speedy reaction from high court. 01.12.10

At issue: privacy vs. openness in ballot petitions
By Tony Mauro Court to hear whether First Amendment protection for anonymous speech, association is violated when state discloses petition signers' names. 01.19.10

Cameras in the courtroom


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