Broadcasting Prop. 8 trial would cause harm, Supreme Court says

Jan 13 2010 - 6:27pm

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(The Associated Press) Couples, from left, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami leave the federal courthouse after their first day in court in San Francisco on Monday.
(The Associated Press) Couples, from left, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami leave the federal courthouse after their first day in court in San Francisco on Monday.

WASHINGTON -- By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Wednesday extended its order blocking video coverage of California's Proposition 8 trial, ruling that the defenders of the ban on same-sex marriage will likely face "irreparable harm" if the proceedings are broadcast to the public.

"It would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to reverse the harm from those broadcasts," the court wrote in an unsigned opinion. The witnesses, including paid experts, could suffer "harassment," and they "might be less likely to cooperate in any future proceedings."

The high court also faulted U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker for changing the rules "at the eleventh hour" and permitting limited video coverage of the divisive case. "This case is not a good one for a pilot program" to allow broadcasting of federal trials, the court said.

Though its opinion was unsigned, it clearly spoke for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The four other justices dissented, disputing the notion that the lawyers and witnesses in this trial face great harm if the public can observe the proceedings.

"The court today issues an order that will prevent the transmission of proceedings in a non-jury civil case of great public interest to five other federal courthouses," said Justice Stephen G. Breyer. "This extraordinary legal relief" is appropriate only for extraordinary situations, he said, and "this case does not, in my view, satisfy a single one of these standards" calling for the court's emergency intervention. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayer joined the 10-page dissent.

The court's order means that the trial can be seen only inside the courthouse in San Francisco.

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