The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, expression, along with freedom of the
press. Since the advent of the electronic media, radio, television and the like have been given by
and large the same protections and freedoms. In a venue where one would expect that there
would be First Amendment protections for mass media television and other video
communications, that being in Federal Courthouses, and more specifically federal courtrooms,
there actually is not.
Although almost all of the States have made allowance for television cameras to be in the
courtroom, the Federal Courts have not made the same provision. Until recently no cameras
were allowed in United States District Courts, (the trial court level). The appellate court level,
that being the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals had the vast majority opposed to allowing
cameras in their courtrooms and only two of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals allow
cameras. The Supreme Court of the United States have blanketly rejected cameras in their
There are many philosophies as to why cameras should not be allowed in the courtrooms
in the Federal system. Some Supreme Court Justices, enunciated that it was their belief that
putting cameras in a courtroom makes the courtroom into a show and therefore distracts from
justice. Others have argued that cameras in the courtroom affects the accused’s right to get a fair
trial and his right to get a fair trial is paramount. As has been said, most of the States have
allowed cameras in the courtrooms for a number of years without justice breaking down.
Recently, the Ninth Circuit which encompasses most of our western States including the
State of California has chosen to implement on a trial basis a procedure where non-jury trials
involving civil matters would be videoed. The procedure requires the head of that particular
District within the Ninth Circuit along with the trial judge to decide on a case by case basis
whether or not this is a trial that should be videoed.
Last month, in San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that video
cameras would be allowed in his courtroom during the trial of the Proposition 8 matter in his
courtroom. The Proposition 8 matter is a trial involving an attempt by gays and lesbians and
their supporters to show that they and other minorities suffer from prejudice and bigotry that
requires a remedy from the Courts. Proposition 8 a law voted on in California outlawed same
sex marriages along with curtailment of other liberties for gays and lesbians.
Before the case could be started, Judge Walker’s decision to allow cameras in his
courtroom and a live internet feed was struck down by the United States Supreme Court. The
Court ruled 5 to 4 that they worried that opponents of gay marriage and their paid witnesses
would be subjected to “harassment as a result of public disclosure of their support” for
Proposition 8. They further went on in support of the injunction against cameras in the
courtroom to say that Proposition 8 defenders had shown “irreparable harm” will likely result “if
the trial had been broadcasted”.
This ruling may be sending a signal that obviously the Supreme Court of the United
States most likely is not in favor of gay marriages or at a minimum believes that each State has
the right to decide this on their own. Their decision remarkably points out fears of one side and
possible subject to ridicule because of their support on the ban of gay marriages and does not
point out the same fear for those who support gay marriages. Yet gay bashing has been going on
for centuries. Anti-gay bashing is a phenomenon that has yet to rear its head.
Whether one supports gay marriages or not, one must concede gays have been subject to
harassment, ridicule and unequal treatment in this country from its inception. Openly gay and
lesbian soldiers are not permitted to serve in the military.
It seems somewhat hypocritical and almost laughable at the Supreme Court’s lack of
sensitivity towards gays and lesbians and yet it is worried about possible harassment of those
who keep gays down and if attempts to keep gays from having equal rights are exposed. In
essence, they feel that they must protect the oppressor in their desire to oppress rather than
shedding light on those who are oppressed.
If the Supreme Court’s logic holds true, nothing can be discussed in the open. There
always will be two sides to an argument. There will always be some who may believe that they
should harass or intimidate somebody for their views. Somehow, the Supreme Court believes
those who have views against the equality of gays and lesbians need to be protected more than
those who have views on the other side.
The Supreme Court’s opinion also fails to take in account of the fact that those who will
testify in this matter will have their names revealed, at least in the print media. Those who will
testify in this Proposition 8 trial more than likely have already espoused their views in public.
The Supreme Court’s opinion takes away First Amendment rights from all of us because it
believes a select few might be harmed. Although the minority always needs to be protected, it
can not come at the expense of the First Amendment. The only time that there is even an
argument that the First Amendment must take a back seat is when it effects an accused right to a
fair trial. In this matter there was no accused and the issue of a fair trial was not the basis of the
Supreme Court’s ruling.