Alex Blaze

The Prop 8 trial would make for better TV than Judge Judy

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 06, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: gay marriage, Ninth Circuit, Prop. 8, same-sex marriage, television, vaughn walker

How is National Review writer Edward Whelan not admitting that Prop 8 supporters are judgmental authoritarians whose willingness to uncritically accept what they're told means that their arguments are inferior?

Walker's New Year's Eve surprise is a critical step in his evident ongoing effort to turn the lawsuit into a high-profile, culture-transforming, history-making, Scopes-style show trial of Proposition 8's sponsors. Specifically, Walker is rushing to override longstanding prohibitions on televised coverage of federal trials so that he can authorize televised coverage of the Proposition 8 trial. [Actually, there is no such prohibition in the Ninth Circuit. It was overturned a month ago by a Reagan appointee. -ed] Televised coverage would generate much greater publicity for ringmaster Walker's circus. And, whether Walker desires the effect or is somehow blind to it, televised coverage would surely also heighten the prospect that witnesses and attorneys supporting Proposition 8 would face harassment, intimidation, and abuse.

In his eagerness to stack the deck against Proposition 8 and its defenders, Walker has resorted to procedural shenanigans and outright illegality.

The cameras will show both sides equally, so I don't see the direct link to "stack[ing] the deck against Proposition 8 and its defenders." If anything, it'll do the opposite - the vast majority of harassment, intimidation, and abuse along the lines of sexual orientation is from straight people to gay people. As Prop 8's passage itself proved, there's still a large amount of antipathy towards queer people in California.

There are definite concerns to be balanced out here, and Joe Mirabella posted an opportunity to tell the judge what you think about this question of cameras in the courtroom. Putting the trial on TV would be educational, as the Ninth Circuit's chief justice pointed out:

Picture 8.png

It's better than the cases people normally watch on TV:

    -Your dog tore up my fence!

    -No, it was the neighbor's cat that did it.

    -Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining! These photos clearly show the fence was torn up by a dog. I find in favor of the plaintiff.

The Prop 8 case is meaningful to a lot of people and the mere presence of a camera won't disrupt the court proceedings. C-SPAN's been televising Congressional proceedings for ages and, while those proceedings lack dignity for a host of reasons, the cameras haven't intimidated anyone from being stupid.

There is definitely a need to keep certain court cases from getting too much attention, especially criminal cases that involve a specific person's future. But the transcipts of the testimony will come out here and no one specifically is on trial. The only people who are on trial are same-sex couples who want to marry, and they seem very much in favor of wanting to televise these proceedings so that they can all know what's going on.

The people who will be directly affected by this ruling go way beyond the plaintiffs and the defendants, and there will be plenty of public interest in this case. And if the right doesn't think their arguments are any better than the creationists' in Inherit the Wind, well, then maybe they shouldn't be making them.

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Will a judge say things like, "Helloooo?" and "Just answer the question!" or "All I'm asking for is a yes or a no. Can you handle that?"

If so, I'd be tuned in all day long.

Just as important as the airing of both sides' arguments will be a full airing of the judge's handling of the courtroom.

I'm not going to be surprised to hear Prop 8 supporters whining that Judge Walker is responding emotionally or being an activist from the bench. Given the opportunity, there would be folks who would re-read transcripts with their own phrasing which happily misrepresents his tone and intent.

Seeing and hearing the Chief U.S. District Judge in action, working carefully and methodically through the process, won't prevent those misrepresentations, but reasonable people will be able to compare his behavior with the anti-gay screechiness and draw their own conclusions.