US federal judges reached an agreement Tuesday on a pilot project allowing certain civil trials to be televised [press release]. Federal appellate judge David Sentelle [official profile] said that, while the details still needed to be worked out, the judges agreed that the faces of jurors and witnesses will not be recorded and that either party to the suit can opt out of the trial being televised. The Judicial Conference [official website], the principle policy-making institution for the federal courts, decided to commence the project after the US Supreme Court [official website] denied a request [JURIST report] by California district judge Vaughn Walker to have cameras record the trial that overturned Proposition 8, the California ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archives]. Sentelle stated that, even if the project was up and running during the trial, it would not have been televised since defenders of the ban refused cameras in the court room. A similar pilot project was initiated in the early 1990s and received welcoming reviews from many judges, but the Judicial Conference reinstated its ban on televised proceedings in 1994.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in January that the Proposition 8 trial could not be broadcast on YouTube [website] because the district court did not follow proper procedure when enacting a rule permitting the broadcast. In staying the broadcast, the court ruled that there was a significant likelihood that the district court had not allowed enough time for the public to comment between proposing and enacting the rule, which ended a ban on recording court proceedings in certain cases. The court also found that the high-profile nature of the trial might intimidate witnesses and cause irreparable harm if the rule were not stayed. The Supreme Court itself has a longstanding ban on the use of cameras, but began releasing audio tapes of the proceedings after the Bush v. Gore [text] decision in 2000. Last month, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) [official website], who has long advocated televised Supreme Court proceedings, pledged a floor vote [Post-Gazette report] on the issue before he leaves office at the end of this term.