WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday issued an order indefinitely blocking the broadcasting of the high-profile California Proposition 8 case, handing a victory to Prop 8 supporters who feared witnesses would be harassed if the trial was shown around the world.
In a 5-4 order, the court's five most conservative justices ruled that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker did not follow federal law by not allowing for a sufficient opportunity for public comment when he announced that video of the trial could be posted on Internet sites such as YouTube. Walker provided only about a week for comment and should have allowed 30 days or more, the court said.
Attorneys with ProtectMarriage.com, the organization that promoted Prop 8, filed the appeal with the Supreme Court, which had issued a temporary stay Monday.
"The District Court attempted to change its rules at the eleventh hour to treat this case differently than other trials in the district," the majority ruled. "Not only did it ignore the federal statute that establishes the procedures by which its rules may be amended, its express purpose was to broadcast a high-profile trial that would include witness testimony about a contentious issue. If courts are to require that others follow regular procedures, courts must do so as well."
The majority -- which said it was not expressing any view on the broader question of "whether such trials should be broadcast" -- consisted of Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion which the remaining three justices joined.
The trial will decide whether Prop 8, a constitutional amendment which voters passed in 2008 and which restored the traditional definition of marriage, violates the U.S. Constitution. Dozens of other state constitutional amendments and statutes that prohibit "gay marriage" are at risk.
The majority said ProtectMarriage.com had shown that witness might face irreparable harm if the stay wasn't issued and the trial was broadcast.
"Some of applicants’ witnesses have already said that they will not testify if the trial is broadcast, and they have substantiated their concerns by citing incidents of past harassment," the majority wrote. "… While applicants have demonstrated the threat of harm they face if the trial is broadcast, respondents have not alleged any harm if the trial is not broadcast."
The court cited evidence from ProtectMarriage.com where supporters of Prop 8 have:
-- "received confrontational phone calls and e-mail messages from opponents of Proposition 8.
-- "been forced to resign their jobs after it became public that they had donated to groups supporting" Prop 8.
-- been put on "Internet blacklists" where businesses who supported Prop 8 were boycotted.
-- "received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund and one of the attorneys involved in defending Prop 8, told Baptist Press Monday the trial should not be broadcast so as to protect witnesses.
"If witnesses came in here to say Prop 8 was a reasonable public policy decision and their face is then blasted all over YouTube and others, it would be an invitation for the same type of treatment that happened during the Prop 8 campaign. The videos of their testimonies also could be altered," he said.