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SCOTUS Blocks Proposition 8 Trial Broadcast
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The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision has blocked the broadcast of the trial underway in San Francisco regarding California’s Proposition 8. Under a new program recently approved by the 9th Circuit, Judge Vaughn Walker had agreed to allow limited broadcasting of the trial via youtube.com over the objections of Prop 8’s defenders, who asked the Supreme Court to step in. Earlier this week the Court issued an order temporarily blocking the broadcasts until the issue could be resolved and today it released its ruling.

The vote came down on familiar ideological lines, with the Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy in the majority. The per curiam decision was based on the failure of Judge Walker to give adequate notice to the public or allow sufficient time for public comment before amending a local court rule prohibiting broadcast of any trial beyond “the courtroom or its environs”.

The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Breyer and signed by the other three members of the liberal wing, Ginsburg, Stevens and Sotomayor, argued first that the time allotted was sufficient for public comment and that the parties in the dispute in particular had ample notice, and then went on to argue that the Court should never have granted cert in the first place since the case “…is not the kind of legal question that this Court would normally grant certiorari to consider. There is no conflict among the state or federal courts regarding the procedures by which a district court changes its local rules. Cf. this Court’s Rules 10(a)–(b). The technical validity of the procedures followed below does not implicate an open ‘important question of federal law.’ . . . Nor do the procedures below clearly conflict with any precedent from this Court. . . . “

  
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It’s a disappointing decision for advocates of televised trials, particularly since the Court based its ruling not on the merits of allowing greater access to the justice system but rather on a limited interpretation of procedural rules involving public notification of amendments to local court rules.

The per curiam opinion and dissent can be found here and you can follow a written account of the trial here.

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