The federal judge presiding over a trial on California’s same-sex marriage ban has turned down a media coalition’s request that he allow a pioneering broadcast of closing arguments next week.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco issued a brief order late Wednesday refusing to allow broadcasting of the June 16 arguments under a pilot program authorized for federal trial courts in western states.
Walker did not give a detailed reason, but said, “No further request to include the case in the pilot program is contemplated.”
Walker is scheduled to hold a daylong session June 16 for closing arguments in the trial of a lawsuit in which two couples contend that Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage enacted by state voters in 2008, violates their federal constitutional rights.
Walker heard 12 days of testimony in the nonjury trial in January. The case is the nation’s first federal trial on a U.S. constitutional challenge to a state measure prohibiting gay and lesbian marriage.
Walker had initially planned to allow delayed broadcasting of the trial on a court channel on YouTube under a pilot program authorized by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for federal trial courts in nine western states.
But that plan was blocked by a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court in January. The court majority said the local court hadn’t allowed enough public comment on the plan and that the sponsors of Proposition had a valid argument that trial witnesses might be intimidated by being televised.
Last month, a coalition of 12 newspaper corporations, television networks and other media groups renewed a request for recording, broadcasting and webcasting the arguments, saying that broadcasting was warranted because of the great public interest.
They said the Supreme Court’s concerns appeared to have been allayed because further comment on the plan had been allowed and the closing arguments will have no live testimony.
On the other side, the Proposition 8 sponsors filed papers arguing that broadcasting could lead to “distraction, grandstanding and avoidance of unpopular decisions or positions” on the part of lawyers or judges.
Walker did not address either side’s arguments in the order, but merely denied the broadcast request.
Broadcasting of court sessions is allowed in the California state court system and for certain arguments before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But broadcasting of federal trial court sessions has occurred only a handful of times nationwide and thus far never in the nine western states in the 9th Circuit.