U.S. Supreme Court Halts Plans To Stream California’s Proposition 8 Trial On YouTube

The U.S. Supreme Court has put a stop to YouTube’s plans to stream tape-delayed coverage of the proceedings from a San Francisco courtroom.  In a 5-4 ruling on Jan. 13, the justices ordered U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California to refrain from allowing the trial to be streamed to five other federal courthouses and tape-delayed on YouTube.  At issue is California proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriages enacted by the state’s voters last fall.  Judge Walker is being asked to overturn the law and initially planned to post the proceedings on the court Web site through YouTube.

The Supreme Court initially issued a temporary stay stopping the court’s plans to permit real-time streaming of the trial, then followed that with a permanent order banning the broadcast.  The court was sharply divided along conservative-liberal lines.  In the initial stay, Justice Stephen Breyer, a San Francisco native, dissented, noting that “the court’s standard for granting a stay is not met” because the papers filed did not show a likelihood of irreparable harm.  Defenders of Proposition 8 claimed witnesses could be subjected to harassment if they testified in favor of the ban on marriages for gay and *** couples.

Judge Walker’s decision to allow YouTube to post the proceedings was based on a recent Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision to allow some TV coverage of civil trials, but the Supreme Court’s ban signals its reluctance to embrace the idea of allowing cameras in federal courts.  The majority concluded that Judge Walker did not follow proper procedures to permit a change in federal court rules to allow cameras.

“The District Court here attempted to revise its rules in haste, contrary to federal statutes and the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States. It did so to allow the broadcasting of this high-profile trial without any considered standards or guidelines in place,” the court majority wrote.

The majority also decided that broadcasting the proceedings threatened to harm Proposition 8 defenders’ fair trial rights.

The dissent, written by Justice Breyer, criticized the decision and noted there would be no harm in allowing it to be shown.

“There is no conflict among the state or federal courts regarding the procedures by which a district court changes its local rules,” he wrote, noting that 42 states and two federal district courts give judges the discretion to allow the broadcast of civil nonjury trials.

In the meantime, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that brought the suit to bring down Proposition 8 in the first place, said it will provide Tweet updates on Twitter throughout the trial here.