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Interpreting Supreme Court’s Stay of Video Coverage in Perry v. Schwarzenegger

January 11th, 2010 1 comment

Less than one hour ago, the Supreme Court voted — by a lopsided 8-1 majority — to grant the defendants’ motion to prevent the youtube broadcast (even the delayed broadcast) of the trial proceedings in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the California federal case challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8 (and, by extension the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriages.)

I can’t yet find the Court’s ruling, but it’s likely short, because the Court only agreed to defer the issue until Wednesday, by which time one would expect they’d issue a more comprehensive decision. But the fact that eight of the justices believe that the application has at least some merit (a least enough for a short stay) surely isn’t a good sign for those, like me, that planned on some good popcorn viewing over the next several weeks.

I’ll have much more to say after the Court’s more substantive decision on Wednesday (especially if the Court affirms and continues the stay), but for now I note:

  • As the linked article suggests, some members of the Court may be allowing their own views about televising of Supreme Court proceedings to affect their judgment here. Several members, notably Chief Justice John Roberts, have been vocally opposed to suggestions that the Court allow anyone to actually see what it’s doing.
  • It’s worth wondering how the professedly (if disingenuously) anti-elitist Justice Scalia will rule. Surely public access to a trial, where people sitting in their living rooms can make their own judgments about the evidence, should be — from the vox populi standpoint, anyway — better than having such proceedings filtered through the media lens; and a small number of media outlets, at that. Let’s see whether this sentiment even surfaces in a case where Scalia might believe that honoring it would do harm to a case in which his belief, from available evidence, is quite strong.

Of course, one might seize on my phrase “popcorn viewing” in support of the position that allowing the citizenry to watch trials of national importance is to permit their trivialization. But if we’re going to let people vote on rights, it seems the least we should do is to let the oppressed see the arguments being used against us.

As for the claim that witnesses will be intimidated or harassed should be trial be televised, it might be answered that the witnesses and their statements will (unless there’s something I’m not aware of) be part of the public record. Anyone determined enough to find out the information can already do so. Let’s not allow speculative, incremental risk to get in the way of full disclosure.

After all, the arguments against marriage equality are surely compelling, aren’t they?

Oh, Perry! (Hold On)

January 10th, 2010 No comments

In case you were wondering whether the Prop 8 defenders believe their arguments are sound, wonder no more: They have gone so far as to seek, from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (who decides such applications for the Ninth Circuit, of which California is a part), an emergency stay of the California court’s order to allow a delayed broadcast of the trial proceedings. The trial is to start tomorrow, with the youtube broadcast to be offered on time delay (maddeningly, we don’t know when the video will be available; later the same day, or early the following day).

Does this action sound to you like that of a group confident in the strength of its arguments? Me, neither. The stay application cites the prospect of witness intimidation and harassment if this show trial is broadcast. Translation: We’re much better off if people can’t see that we have no good arguments against allowing gay couples the same right to marry that heterosexual couples take for granted.

One interesting tea leaf to read here: Justice Kennedy is among the Court’s most consistent defenders of the First Amendment, reading its guarantees quite broadly. Thus, if he does grant the stay, the prospects for ultimate success at the Supreme Court dim. His vote is likely decisive. And Kennedy probably can’t dodge the issue by asking the full Court to weigh in, because the other eight justices would likely split 4-4, throwing it right back to him.1┬áThere’s something fitting about Kennedy’s role here: He can decide this, all by himself. We might as well say that about marriage equality, generally.

  1. I know, this is much too simple, because this isn’t the same as deciding the marriage issue on the merits. And the First Amendment issue could split the Court in a different way. Yes, but if Bush v. Gore taught us anything, it’s that theory and doctrine will be subordinated to political result when the chips are down. So I don’t expect the conservative wing of the Court to do anything that would diminish, even hypothetically, the case against marriage equality which they may soon have to hear.