Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division
Date Filed: May 13, 2020
Update: On July 9, 2020, a federal judge issued an order denying the proponents’ motion to maintain the seal on the video recordings of the Prop 8 trial. U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick held that the proponents had put forth no new compelling reasons that the video recordings should remain under seal. He denied their motion for a stay and ordered the recordings released on August 12, 2020.
The proponents of Prop 8 then appealed the district judge’s order and moved for a stay of the order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit while the appeal is pending. The parties opposing the continued sealing of the video recordings urged the Ninth Circuit to deny the proponents’ motion to stay, and the Reporters Committee and 32 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the opposition to the stay. The media coalition’s brief argues that access to the recordings will provide the public with a richer, more fulsome account of the witness testimony and legal arguments in the historic Prop 8 trial, an account which has been unavailable to the public for the past decade.
Background: In 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional. Video recordings of the 12-day bench trial were entered into the record but filed under seal.
In 2017, public radio and television station KQED filed a motion with the district court to unseal the video recordings. Several proponents of Proposition 8 opposed the unsealing. Based on Civil Local Rule 79-5, the district court concluded that the video recordings should be kept under seal until Aug. 12, 2020, unless the proponents offered compelling reasons to keep the records sealed beyond that date.
On April 1, 2020, the proponents filed a motion to continue the seal on the video recordings permanently. KQED opposed the motion.
Our Position: The district court must deny the proponent’s motion to continue the seal and release the video recordings on Aug. 12, 2020.
- Public release of the recordings serves the interests advanced by the common law and First Amendment rights of access to judicial documents.
- Public access to the recordings will enhance the completeness of news reports about the trial.
- Even if the court were to find compelling interests sufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of court access, any continued sealing of the recordings must be narrowly tailored.
Quote: “The historic trial to determine the constitutionality of Proposition 8 remains a matter of significant public interest. Though transcripts are available, the Recordings provide the best and most complete depiction of the trial.”
Related: In 2011, the Reporters Committee joined a media coalition brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to deny a motion filed by proponents requesting that video recordings of the trial be kept under seal. The media coalition’s brief also asked the Ninth Circuit to order the immediate public release of the trial recordings.
In 2018, the Reporters Committee filed a media coalition friend-of-the-court brief in the Ninth Circuit after the proponents appealed the district court’s order requiring the video records to be unsealed by August 2020, unless the proponents offered compelling reasons to keep the records sealed beyond that date. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the proponent’s appeal because it held that the district court’s order was not a final decision.