A coalition of television networks and newspapers asked a federal judge in San Francisco today for permission to televise next month’s trial on the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban.
Ten media organizations sent U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker a letter saying they would like to provide gavel-to-gavel broadcast and webcast coverage of the trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 11.
Pool coverage would be handled by In Session, formerly known as Court TV, the letter said.
The coalition’s attorney, Thomas Burke, wrote, “We appreciate the court’s attention to this matter and look forward to the opportunity to provide coverage of these historic proceedings.”
The trial, which Walker is scheduled to preside over without a jury, will be on a civil lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples in May to challenge the ban enacted by voters last year as Proposition 8.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. The couples claim Proposition 8 violates their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
In addition to In Session, media participating in the broadcast request are ABC News, KGO-TV, KABC-TV, Cable News Network, Fox News, NBC News, CBS News, Hearst Corp. and Dow Jones & Co.
If Walker approves the broadcast request, the case could be the first federal trial in western states to be televised.
The request follows an announcement in which Judicial Council of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that it has approved an experimental pilot program for the use of cameras in federal trial courts, known as district courts, in nine western states.
The council said cameras will be allowed only in nonjury civil trials and cases will be chosen by the chief judge of each district court in consultation with Chief 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski.
Walker, who is chief judge of the Northern District of California, said during a pretrial hearing Wednesday that he would consider allowing cameras at the Proposition 8 trial.
Rules and procedures for cameras in the federal courtrooms have not yet been established.
Ninth Circuit spokesman David Madden said Friday that in the experiment, courts will be allowed to propose cases. The chief district judge of that court and Kozinski would then confer on whether and how cameras would be allowed, including whether the consent of the parties in a case is required, Madden said.
The media coalition letter says the group understands that the judge may want it to file a formal request for broadcast coverage. It asks Walker to set a briefing schedule, if he decides that written briefs are needed.
The trial will be the first federal constitutional test of the California measure.
A five-year legal battle centered on state constitutional issues ended in May when the California Supreme Court ruled that voters had the power to amend the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.