Ninth Circuit seals videos from California same-sex marriage trial

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] that it will not release video recordings from Perry v. Schwarzenegger [opinion], California's 2010 trial which declared Proposition 8 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], the state's same-sex marriage ban, to be unconstitutional. In reversing the opinion of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website], the circuit court concluded that recordings from the landmark case could not be released [AP report] without undermining the integrity of the judicial system. It found that Chief Judge Walker, the district judge at trial, "made no commitment to the parties to limit the use of the recording to helping him with his own deliberations, and, more important, not to allow the recording to be used for 'public broadcasting or televising.'" As such, held the Ninth Circuit, the district court abused its discretion in unsealing the videos because it lacked support in inferences that could be drawn from the record. Said the court:

The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge's word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge's representations to the parties were solemn commitments. ... We conclude ... that the integrity of the judicial process is a compelling interest that in these circumstances would be harmed by the nullification of the trial judge's express assurances, and that there are no alternatives to maintaining the recording under seal that would protect the compelling interest at issue.
Walker, who has since retired and revealed his relationship with another man, originally wanted the trial broadcasted. He was subsequently blocked [JURIST report] from doing so by the US Supreme Court [official website], which cited that witnesses sponsoring the ban could be subject to harassment if the trial footage became viral. The Ninth Circuit made clear that it would not yet decide the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The Ninth Circuit heard arguments [JURIST report] in December on whether the video recordings should be released to the public. There, Proposition 8 supporters, much like their original argument against broadcasting the trial, argued [text, PDF] against the release because it could lead to harassment of their witnesses. The supporters also claimed that the First Amendment right of access has no application in this instance. Proposition 8 opponents argued [text, PDF] that there is no reason not to make the recordings public, and that there is a public interest to do so. Proposition 8 was approved [JURIST report] by California voters in November 2008 and remains legally controversial.

 

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