Is Prop 8 Trial Going to be Televised?

Could the Tiger Woods scandal be replaced on the 24-hour news shows by a high-profile trial over same-sex marriage?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit–which covers courts in California and other states in the west–opened the door to television coverage of federal civil trials Dec. 17 just in time for the mid-January court battle over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriages in California. Although the overseers of the federal courts opposed televised trials and arguments, the Ninth Circuit has decided to experiment with the idea and same-sex marriage could be first up.

The mediagenic odd couple of David Boies and Ted Olsen, representing opponents of Proposition 8, are anxious to have the trial televised and the decision on whether to allow cameras is in the hands of the head judge in each court.  In this case, Judge Vaughan Walker is overseeing the trial and also the chief judge of the court. What better opportunity to see how the experiment works than oversee the trial where the televising occurs. He’s also signaled support for having the trial televised.

While supporters of the legal challenge are giddy over the possibility of a televised trial, Prop 8 backers who have fought a running battle over confidentiality are opposed to the idea, saying it defies tradition and could place backers “in danger” because of alleged threats against Prop 8 supporters.

One argument in favor of televising the Prop 8 trial is that it is an issue with broad significance and large public interest.  Unlike a televised trial over an employment dispute, for instance, opening up the court to cameras in a major case involving a hot-button issue would serve the purpose of informing as well as reporting.While cameras have been allowed in state courts for years–hello Court TV–the federal courts have been less enthusiastic about the idea and justices on the Supreme Court are especially icy to the idea.

But what does this mean for outlets like MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News?  Would feeds from the court cameras be made available to the press?  Would portions of the trial be televised nationally?  Would it mean a boon for TV legal analysts? Tune in in January, when the trial is set to begin.

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