American Foundation for Equal Rights

The New York Times: Ruling for Open Courts

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“The American justice system rests on open and transparent proceedings. A recent ruling by Judge James Ware of Federal District Court in San Francisco wisely upheld this principle in ordering the release of a video recording of the civil trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

“The discriminatory measure was struck down last year by Vaughn Walker, the Federal District Court judge who presided at the trial; the case is pending appeal. Judge Ware addressed the separate question of whether the videotape should remain under court seal, as Proposition 8′s supporters urged. Pressing for the videotape’s release were the trial’s victorious plaintiffs, and a media coalition, including The New York Times Company.

“Public access to trials and court records is “foremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process,” Judge Ware wrote in his 14-page opinion. He rejected the assertion of the proposition’s backers that suppressing the videotapes was necessary to protect their two witnesses — both well-known individuals who testified at the trial and sometimes make TV appearances. He also rejected the claim that the Supreme Court’s order blocking broadcast of the trial as it was taking place bars releasing the videotape now.

“Proposition 8′s proponents are appealing Judge Ware’s decision. They are plainly concerned that releasing the videotape will further expose the emptiness of their arguments for denying gay people the freedom to marry. But in America, potential embarrassment is insufficient ground for denying the public access to vital court records in such a momentous case.”