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Filed under: Televising

Why We Must Tell America the Truth About the Prop 8 Trial

by Cleve Jones

In his most famous speech, my good friend Harvey Milk urged LGBT people to come out of the closet. “For invisible, we remain in limbo,” he said.

Harvey knew that full equality would not become reality as long as the public was also shielded from the truth about who we are. The hollow arguments at the foundation of our institutionalized second class citizenship would never be challenged unless we embraced our identities publicly.

With closing arguments in the Prop. 8 trial scheduled for this Wednesday, Harvey Milk’s words ring as true today as they did when they were first uttered in 1978. And all parties to the Prop. 8 trial know it.

That’s why the Courage Campaign and CREDO Action gathered nearly 140,000 petition signatures asking to have the historic federal trial over Proposition 8 (Perry vs. Schwarzenegger) televised back in January. It’s also why we launched the Prop. 8 Trial Tracker blog, which has received two million hits so far, to help everyday Americans stay connected to the important and historic events happening in the courtroom.

And it’s why last month, we launched an unprecedented grassroots campaign to bring this historic trial to life across America through a project called Testimony: Equality on Trial.


But most Americans have not seen this evidence.

That’s because after successfully petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to deny public access to the trial, Prop. 8’s supporters have fought to strike their own witness testimony from the official trial record. Their objective has been to keep the truth “invisible” to the American people no matter what the outcome of a case that is likely to continue until it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court – a process that could take years.

Now is the time to answer Harvey Milk’s call to action by taking the Prop. 8 trial out of the legal abstract and into the public square. It is time to empower the tens of millions of Americans who are also on trial because of the lies at the heart of Prop. 8 – but whose stories will never be admitted into evidence in this case.

Through videotaped, guerrilla theater trial re-enactments and depositions by everyday Americans who have come to understand the destructive power of discrimination, Testimony can be the definitive public education campaign for the LGBT equality movement.

It all starts with your participation. All you need is a camera, a friend, and an internet connection.

Visit the Equality on Trial Website to get involved today.

Follow Equality on Trial on Facebook

I created the Names Project, known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, to engage every American who knew anyone afflicted by the pandemic and to bring AIDS and HIV out of the shadows. That project changed the way our country, including the government and health researchers, viewed HIV/AIDS. And that’s precisely what Testimony will do for equal rights.

I remember when Anita Bryant used her virulent brand of homophobia to strip basic rights from LGBT people in Dade County, Florida in 1972. My generation of activist – the Stonewall Generation – vowed never to accept public votes on our rights. As Ted Olson says, “when the rights of minorities are voted on, minorities usually lose. That’s why we have the constitution and the federal courts.”

This trial is the best shot the Stonewall Generation has of seeing full equality. The strategy of fighting state by state, county by county and city by city has created a patchwork of inequality where some have certain rights, others none. It divides Americans from each other. And it fails to recognize that true equality can only come from the Federal Government.

Our challenge in the months ahead is to share the testimony heard by Judge Walker with our fellow citizens and our representatives in government; to accelerate the profound shift in public opinion on this issue and to make that change evident to the President, Congress and Supreme Court.

We need your help to ensure that this trial, and the millions who will be impacted by its outcome, are invisible no more.

113 Comments June 16, 2010

Our letter to Judge Walker on televising closing arguments

By Julia Rosen

Today, we sent a Courage Campaign Institute letter to Judge Vaughn Walker urging him to approve the Media Coalition’s request that they be allowed to televise the closing arguments of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

There was some confusion earlier this week over this issue, when the AP jumped the gun and said Walker had decided on the issue. However, the only thing that changed was that a notice was posted to the court’s website that trial would not be broadcast outside of the courtroom. We weren’t about to give up so we penned the letter. The letter includes the following:

As we wrote in January to support the request to televise the trial, openness and transparency are necessary to the proper functioning of our courts—particularly in this case because of its implications for federal law, state laws and the lives of tens of millions of Americans. This has taken on an increased importance in light of efforts by the defense in Perry v. Schwarzenegger to strike already admitted evidence from the trial record.

We believe that Americans have the right to know what is being said and argued in their courts, and allowing cameras in the courtroom to broadcast the closing arguments is the best, most efficient way to provide this level of transparency.

As this court and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recognized, 138,542 public comments were submitted in favor of televising the Prop 8 trial, and only 32 were submitted against televising the trial. The public has already demonstrated a clear desire for the kind of access to this trial that television cameras can best provide.

I’d be lying if I said I thought it was a slam dunk that the trial will be televised, but we will keep pushing for as much transparency, access and attention on this trial as possible.

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66 Comments May 27, 2010

Walker says no to televising closing arguments

By Julia Rosen

Well this is a bummer, but unsurprising. AP:

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued a notice Tuesday stating that the final arguments scheduled for June 16 will not be transmitted beyond the San Francisco courthouse where he is hearing the case.

There is no reasoning that I can find, just this notice, which is now posted on the U.S. District Court website:

Chief Judge Walker has scheduled closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger for June 16, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. The proceedings are scheduled to end at 4:00 p.m., although the exact time cannot be predicted. A ruling is not expected on the day of the closing arguments.

All reserved seating passes have been allocated. Very limited seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis for the main courtroom.

Simultaneous video transmission will be available in the ceremonial courtroom on the 19th Floor of the federal courthouse and for media representatives in the court’s media center on the first floor.

There will be no simultaneous transmission of the proceedings outside the courthouse.

We will be liveblogging the proceedings, just like we did the rest of the case and will be doing our best to ensure that what happens inside that courtroom in San Francisco does not stay in that courtroom.

[UPDATE] As noted in the comments, the AP has updated their story and added this note at the bottom:

(This version CORRECTS Corrects to say judge has NOT ruled on media coalition request.)

What we have is a notice posted on the court’s website that there will be no video outside of the courthouse, but not a specific ruling on the Media Coalition request.

32 Comments May 25, 2010

Prop 8 Lawyer Wants Closing Arguments Close to Cameras

By Julia Rosen

Shocking nobody, Charles Cooper from Protect Marriage and the Prop 8 side wants the courtroom during closed arguments closed to cameras. He penned letter to Judge Walker in response to the one last week from the Media Coalition. Advocate:

In a letter to U.S. district judge Vaughn R. Walker, attorney Charles J. Cooper wrote that allowing cameras in the courtroom would violate an earlier stay order by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in January blocked broadcast of trial proceedings as part of a pilot project previously approved by a judicial council of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Karen Ocamb has the full letter up at LGBT POV (and Scribd is below, thanks Kathleen!).

This is the interesting bit, beyond the arguements over due process and other lawyerly talk.

Fourth, there is little merit to the Media Coalition’s argument that “the concerns earlier reviewed by the Supreme Court should not preclude” the public broadcast of closing arguments because they “will solely consist of the arguments of counsel—and not witness testimony or evidence.” As an initial matter, the parties may play excerpts from the video-recorded depositions during the course of closing arguments. In any case, in Hollingsworth, the Supreme Court specifically cited the findings and policies of the Judicial Conference of the United States, noting that while those policies “may not be binding on the lower courts, they are at the very least entitled to respectful consideration.” 130 S. Ct. at 712 (quotation marks omitted). While it is true that the deleterious effect of public broadcast on witnesses is one of the concerns undergirding the Judicial Conference’s policy, it is by no means the only concern. As we have explained previously, the Judicial Conference’s policy also rests on findings that public broadcast has negative effects on some judges and attorneys, including distraction, grandstanding, and avoidance of unpopular decisions or positions. Moreover, the Judicial Conference has repeatedly stressed that “the presence of cameras in a trial courtroom … increases security and safety issues” and that “[t]hreats against judges, lawyers, and other participants could increase even beyond the current disturbing level.”

There’s a lot there, so let’s unpack it.

First, Cooper is contending that since there exists a chance that video taped depositions will be aired that the whole proceedings should not be televised. That’s an easy fix. Turn off the video feed and just use the sound, or turn the cameras completely off.

The rest of it is Cooper arguing that, because the Supreme Court doesn’t like cameras to begin with, and cited some “Judicial Conference” in their original decision, Walker should listen to what the Conference says and not allow cameras in. If that is the case, then the whole pilot project for video taping other trials ought to be junked out the window. But there has never been an explicit ruling from the Supreme Court saying that cameras should never be allowed in a court room.

Note that Cooper is managing to work in a “protect us, we are victims” line right there at the end. It just does not hold water when it comes to the closing arguments. These are well rehearsed lawyers who are very used to the public eye, as is Judge Walker.

Now we wait for Walker to issue his ruling on the request from the Media Coalition.

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26 Comments May 24, 2010

Media Coalition Requests Closing Arguments Be Filmed

By Julia Rosen

The Media Coalition has sent a formal request today to Judge Walker that they be allowed to film the closing arguments, tentatively scheduled for June 16th. As most of you remember, Judge Walker originally was going to let the trial be recorded and posted to YouTube, but the Supreme Court overturned his ruling. Given all that transpired, it would be surprising if Judge Walker rules in favor of open access.


In the letter, media lawyers argued that the local federal court has now properly established rules for televising federal court proceedings, and that concerns about witnesses are no longer relevant for closing arguments conducted by the lawyers.

Here is the letter the Media Coalition sent to Judge Walker:

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67 Comments May 18, 2010

Trial Reenactment: Day 4 Parts I and II

By Julia Rosen

Do you know what time it is? It’s reenactment time!

Here are the first two chapters from Day 4 of the trial from

66 Comments March 4, 2010

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