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High court rules against video of same-sex marriage trial

From Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
Jeffrey Zarrillo, left, and Paul Katami, are one couple at the center of the federal case.
Jeffrey Zarrillo, left, and Paul Katami, are one couple at the center of the federal case.
  • Lower court had OK'd posting videos of trial on Internet
  • Supreme Court says no, but cameras can send trial to overflow rooms
  • Four members of court dissent, led by Justice Stephen Breyer

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has again indefinitely blocked plans to disseminate video of an important federal court case involving same-sex marriage in California.

The justices in an unsigned order Wednesday prevented any distribution of the live video stream outside the San Francisco, California, courthouse where the case is being heard, and any real-time or delayed posting on the Internet.

In a trial that began Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco will decide whether the state's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is constitutional. California voters approved the measure in November 2008, prompting an appeal by several homosexual couples.

As part of a pilot program, the judge had agreed to allow video of the trial to be sent live to other rooms within the courthouse and to five other federal courthouses, and to be posted several hours later on the popular video site

Opponents of same-sex marriage had asked the Supreme Court to intervene, saying witness testimony could be affected if cameras were present. It is extremely rare for a federal trial to be televised to the broader public.

The Supreme Court's latest order allows distribution only to designated "overflow" rooms in the San Francisco courthouse, where people who want to view the trial but are unable to fit into the courtroom can watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

A majority of Supreme Court justices concluded expanded broadcast should not permitted because, they wrote, "It appears the courts below did not follow the appropriate procedures set forth in federal law before changing their rules to allow such broadcasting."

There has been much internal debate in federal courts around the country about the televised experiment, with several judges and administrators privately expressing concern that it could eventually lead to the entire judiciary being televised, including the Supreme Court.

In dissent to the ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer and three liberal colleagues complained the public would be deprived of watching "a nonjury civil case of great public interest to five other federal courthouses located in Seattle [Washington], Pasadena [California], Portland [Oregon], San Francisco [California], and Brooklyn [New York]." He was supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and Sonia Sotomayor.

Breyer said the Supreme Court traditionally has stayed out of what he called another court's administrative discretion on such matters, saying, "I believe this court should adhere to its institutional competence, its historical practice, and its governing precedent -- all of which counsel against the issuance of this stay."

The case is Hollingsworth v. Perry (09A648).