The fate of federal court videotapes of the Proposition 8, same-sex marriage ban case, came under scrutiny Monday. Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware has been asked to release the videotape to the public. He didn’t make a decision from the bench but he did note he saw a sign on his way into the courthouse that read “Free the Tapes.” (thanks Prop8trialtracker.com
for live blog posts)
Proposition 8 was a 2008 voter initiative that amended the state Constitution to limit marriage in California to only a man and a woman. The lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the law. In August 2010, former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 as a violation of due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. That decision is on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In addition, Walker also allowed videotaping of the trial under a then-new court rule. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order prohibiting the broadcast of the video, even under the limited terms set by Walker to release it to a few law schools and courthouses to expand public access. But Walker continued to run the tapes, he just kept them under lock and key. Monday’s hearing was an effort to get Ware to release the tapes. He has taken over the case since Walker’s retirement.
Ware told the courtroom he recognized the importance of the questions and said he plans to rule quickly.
Federal courts have not permitted public broadcast of trial proceedings. But earlier this year a pilot project was launched to allow 14 district courts around the country to experiment with use of cameras in civil trials. The pilot has stringent limits and will be subject to review in three years before any expansion of the program is permitted.
The Northern District of California is one of the pilot project courts.
Prior to the federal court ruling, the California Supreme Court in May 2008 held that statutes prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the California Constitution, opening the doors for same-sex couples to marry. But voters adopted Proposition 8 in November, which restored the limits to opposite-sex marriage by Constitutional amendment. This set up the case for the federal court challenge of Proposition 8.
Case: Perry v. Brown, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921 (N.Dist. of Calif.) Walker’s decision.