A U.S. District Court in California has ruled that tape recordings should be made public of the trial for the federal lawsuit that led to the determination that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
In a 16-page ruling issued on Monday, U.S. District Judge John Ware determines “no compelling reasons exist” to keep the tapes of trial sealed away and orders the clerk of the court to place the recording in the publicly available record of the case.
“Foremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process are public access to trials and public access to the record of judicial proceedings,” Ware writes.
Ware issued a temporary stay on his order that will last until Sept. 30. Unless a further stay in granted by the district court, or a higher court, the tapes will be made public at that time.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who’s gay and now retired, determined last year that Prop 8 — a 2008 ballot initiative approved by California voters that ended same-sex marriage in the state — is unconstitutional. The case, known as Perry v. Brown, is now pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The California State Supreme Court is considering whether or not defendants, the group known Protect Marriage, which was responsible for pushing Prop 8, have standing to appeal.
Plaintiffs contended the First Amendment establishes a strong presumption that the recordings should be open to the public. Defendants wanted the trial recording to remain under wraps because they argued they would in danger of reprisal supporters of same-sex marriage if the tapes were available.
But Ware in his ruling says defendants’ arguments aren’t enough of a reason to keep the recording away from the public.
“The Court finds that this contention is mere ‘unsupported hypothesis or conjecture,’ which may not be used by the Court as a basis for overcoming the strong presumptionin favor of access to court records,” Ware writes.
LGBT advocates praised Ware for the ruling that the tapes should be made publicly available.
Chad Griffin, board president for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization behind the litigation, called the ruling “a significant victory for the American people, who will soon be able to see the evidence put forward by both sides in this historic federal trial.”
“Unlike political campaigns, in a court of law, the truth and facts are all that matter,” Griffin continued. “When witnesses take the stand, they are under oath and under penalty of perjury, and their statements are subjected to cross-examination and scrutiny. The public will soon see the extraordinarily weak case that the anti-marriage proponents presented in a desperate attempt to defend this discriminatory law.”
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the ruling “is a great victory for openness and transparency.”
“Our democracy depends on the public’s right to know what takes place inside our nation’s federal courts, especially in cases addressing fundamental constitutional rights that affect every person,” Minter said. “The proponents of Prop 8 should be ashamed for fighting to bar public access to this historic trial.”
Defendants are expected to appeal the ruling.