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Archives – May, 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

Where we are at on DADT

By Julia Rosen

Here is the deal. Senator Carl Levin and Rep. Patrick Murphy worked together and in coordination with the White House and Department of Defense to craft a compromise, which upon passage remove Congress as an obstacle to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. President Obama has always said that there needed to be an act of congress giving him permission to repeal the policy and this does that and not a whole lot more.

This piece of legislation gives no date for repeal. It states that it cannot happen until the Gates/Mullen are done with their review and are satisfied that it would not harm unit cohesion or readiness. Passage of this amendment does not put in place a policy of non-discrimination. For more background see this excellent piece in the Advocate.

All of that said, considering DADT repeal was nearly dead last week, it is impressive that this amendment is viable and due to a tremendous amount of grassroots pressure and the leadership by Levin and Murphy (check out this interview with Murphy).

How this gets passed through congress is a bit of sausage making. First, the Senate Armed Services Committee will vote on this language as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. It’s known as a “must-pass” bill, one that is unlikely to be vetoed and is tough to filibuster. We are thisclose on having the votes to pass it through the committee. Right now, either we need Sen. Bayh to vote for it (and he is believed to be a 98% certain yes vote) or Sen. Byrd not to show or to vote yes. Bryd has been ill for a while and does not always make it to vote.

That vote in committee is likely to happen tomorrow. Once the Senate votes to approve, the House will bring it up on the full floor with identical language. That is supposed to happen tomorrow as well, however, sometimes things take longer than expected when it comes to Congress. Shocking I know. That said, it’s a pretty safe bet that it all gets done by Friday, given that Congress can’t wait to get out of town for the recess.

That will leave a full vote on the Senate floor on the defense bill left to go. Senator McCain is now threatening to filibuster that bill, assuming the amendment gets attached to it in committee.

No matter what happens Thursday or Friday there will be a fight to make sure it passes the full Senate and that the Department of Defense and President Obama don’t drag it out indefinitely.

For more tidbits, see this good round up post from Adam Bink over at Open Left.

31 Comments May 26, 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

Celebrating Harvey Milk Day (Or Not)

By Julia Rosen

Tomorrow is Harvey Milk’s birthday. It’s also the first annual official state holiday Harvey Milk Day. There are celebrations going on around the state, from parties, to prayers, to rallies and canvassing. Harvey Milk Day like Martin Luther King Jr Day was intended to also include school lessons about the life and achievements of Harvey.

But some people are refusing to honor Harvey. The Kern High School board of trustees in Bakersfield voted earlier this week to refuse to commemorate him, banning classrooms from “recognizing” Harvey. Despite organizing from local activists, the board voted 3 to 1 on the motion.

It gets worse, when you read the reasoning, from Ken Mettler Vice President of the board who said:

“We should recognize individuals based on their achievements, not based on their sexual orientation.”

It’s not surprising to then hear that Mettler was Mettler the Kern County chairman for Prop 8. He also bragged about his advocacy to get Easter and Christmas celebrated in Kern public schools. So Easter bunnies are ok, just not Harvey Milk.

People’s attitudes don’t automatically change just because a law is passed. We have a lot of work to do and Testimony is an important piece of the puzzle.

62 Comments May 21, 2010

Ryan Kendall: A Victim of Dr. George Rekers

By Julia Rosen

Earlier today we sent a message to our email list from Aryel Reish — a 23-year old straight ally who strongly supports LGBT equality. Aryel is also a very good friend of Ryan Kendall, a key witness in the federal Prop 8 trial who testified about the years of abuse he suffered from “conversion therapy” — destructive junk science promoted by Dr. George Rekers.

Rekers has been all over the news recently, including a New York Times article yesterday exposing his ties as an “expert” to the Prop 8 trial and similar trials across the country. Rekers co-founded the anti-gay Family Research Council and sat on the board of National Association for Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

Rekers has destroyed countless lives with his advocacy for “conversion therapy”. It’s time we stop him. It’s time we stop him. Will you stand up for Ryan Kendall and so many others and sign this letter from Aryel and the Courage Campaign to Focus on the Family, NARTH and the Family Research Council?

For more on Rekers and his ties to Perry v. Schwarzengger and other trials check out this article in yesterday’s NYT. Another must read is Amanda Terkel’s piece on Think Progress titled: “How The Rekers ‘Rent Boy’ Scandal Could Undermine Prop. 8 Supporters’ Court Battle”.

38 Comments May 20, 2010

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