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On cameras in the Prop. 8 courtroom, justices rule: Do as we do, not as we say

In 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court, semi-overruling a previous decision, ruled that the Constitution "does not prohibit a state from experimenting" with television cameras in the courtroom. Today the  justices stayed -- put on hold -- the decision of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to allow the dissemination on the Internet of video of this week's trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. (The justices also blocked Walker's plan to stream the video in real time to other federal courthouses.)

 What gives?

The legal basis for the order is a principle that allows courts to issue injunctions if there is a danger of "irreparable harm." As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in dissenting from the order, the request by (suddenly publicity-shy) Proposition 8 supporters for a stay  didn't meet that exacting standard. An alternative theory is that the justices simply react reflexively against the idea of cameras in courtrooms.

Whether or not they lift the stay when it expires on Wednesday (and I assume Breyer is evangelizing  his colleagues), the Brethren seem to have put their own skittishness about televised proceedings above the principle of public access to the judicial system.  Walker's decision to allow the  wide dissemination of video of the trial on a delayed basis was simply a matter of adapting the tradition of public  trials to the age of television -- and  the Internet. (The video of the trial was to have been posted on YouTube.)

The justices are free to continue their irrational resistance to cameras in their own court. But they shouldn't let their aversion to being seen on TV warp their legal judgment in other cases.

-- Michael McGough

 

Comments () | Archives (3)

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Johnny Limm

I've always been a believer that we, as United States citizens, should uphold the laws of this land. The laws of this land includes the U.S. Constitution, Amendments, State Laws and Propositions. If the American people voted to pass Proposition 8, then let us abide by it to our best ability. I believe there is always room to overturn a law by the electoral process but there is no room to deliberately break the law.

Troy R.

The federal appellate courts, especially SCOTUS, have been particularly adverse to such broadcasts of court proceedings. I do think this is more of a concern at the trial level--where juries, witnesses, and attorneys--may suffer an impact or feel 'pressure to perform' from the wide exposure.

@Johnny Limm

The case at issue involves whether a popular initiative to amend California's state consitution actually violates the U.S. Constitution. In short, the popular whims of the American voters are not the supreme law of the United States. Rather, the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. When Loving v. Virginia was decided, the American people would have overwhelmingly supported anti-miscegenation laws had the issue been put to a nationwide vote. Nevertheless, such an initiative would have been unconstitutional as per SCOTUS in that case. As in the current Prop 8 case, the 14th Amendment ensures equal protection under the laws for all groups of Americans--even the most unpopular ones.

Julian Sandoval

I agree it is unlawful. However, why is it o.k. for government (especially the Bush administration) to dismiss the constitution and laws of the land (for sixteen years and greater) and yet when the people make a challenge on the books its taken up as if it where unheard of?


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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