BREAKING: 9th Circuit Rules Prop 8 Trial Tapes to Stay Sealed


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down a decision to prevent the unsealing of trial tapes recorded during the 2010 Proposition 8 trial.

From the court opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt writing:

We resolve the narrow question before us on a narrow basis when we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by ordering the unsealing of the recording of the trial notwithstanding the trial judge’s commitment to the parties that the recording would not be publicly broadcast.

[. . .]

For the reasons discussed above, we reverse the order of the district court as an abuse of its discretion and remand with instructions to maintain the trial recordingunder seal.

The order also notes that the district court shall not return to former Chief Judge Walker the copy of the recording that he lodged with the court.

Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware ruled on Sept. 19 of last year that there was no compelling reason to keep the trial tapes out of the public domain, and that in the interests of public confidence in the judiciary it was in fact imperative to release the tapes so as to be as transparent as possible. He also ruled that a Supreme Court motion blocking Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the trial, from broadcasting live trial proceedings did not prevent unsealing the tapes after the fact.

As such, Ware ordered the tapes to be unsealed but stayed his decision until September 30 to allow for further court action. Defendant intervenors appealed.

The 9th Circuit, in the opinion issued today, disagreed with Ware’s ruling, writing that Judge Vaughn Walker, compelled by the Supreme Court, had given his assurances that the tapes would not be broadcast and that his sticking to that word was a key interest in maintaining public confidence. This in itself, the court said, constituted a compelling reason to keep the trial tapes under seal.

As such, the 9th Circuit judges concluded “for the reasons we explained above, that the integrity of the judicial process is a compelling interest that in these circumstances would be harmed by the nullification of the trial judge’s express assurances, and that there are no alternatives to maintaining the recording under seal that would protect the compelling interest at issue. In short, the recording cannot be released without undermining the integrity of the judicial system.”

Following an exhaustive trial period in 2010, the now retired Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the 2008 ballot initiative, Proposition 8, was unconstitutional at even the most basic level of judicial scrutiny. Today’s ruling is a procedural matter that has no impact on this original case, for which the 9th Circuit is yet to hand down a decision.

The court must also decide on a motion to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling. Defendant intervenors argue Vaughn Walker was in a same-sex relationship at the time of the trial and, they say, this may have introduced an element of bias in his ruling.

Related Reading:

California Supreme Court Hears Prop. 8 Standing Issue

Unsealing of Prop 8. Trial Tapes Gets Hearing

Prop. 8 Tapes Case May Itself be Recorded

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to angela n.


Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

That's really a shame since California is always so progressive, contemporary and forward thinking and believes in truth and transparency. I'd like to know what exactly it is they're trying to hide.

Judith g., California hasn't gotten there yet but if it keeps up like this it will be as bad as Texas, Arizona, Utah, Alabama, Florida and anyplace that's dominated by conservative based hatred, intolerance and bigotry.

John S.
John S.6 years ago

As I recall from reading the original court ruling, the homophobes' own witnesses made the case for gay marriage. That's what the homophobes don't want people to see.

Diane F.
Diane F6 years ago

P.S. After those comments, that should be enough reason to open them up. Those comments admit there's wrongdoing. We, the people, know wrongdoing occurs; but as long as How we were wronged by judicial misconduct is not disclosed, we would be kept deaf, dumb and blind about it, that makes everything legal and OK! @$$holes!

Diane F.
Diane F6 years ago

Per the article:
"the 9th Circuit judges concluded ........ 'for the reasons we explained above, that the integrity of the judicial process is a compelling interest.... .... In short, the recording cannot be released without undermining the integrity of the judicial system.”

The 9th Circuit judges admit that they have something to hide! Their integrity is as stake here. Seem to me the judicial process would be embarrassed and scandalized if the truth came out.

Lilithe Magdalene

Wish Vaughn had not made that promise to keep the tapes confidential!

New G.
W. C6 years ago

Agree with Sandi C. and Hannah L.

Ellen Mccabe
Ellen m6 years ago

Transparency my ass!
I may have been born in CA., but i'm so thankful i have been here in wonderful WA. for the past 35 years

Hannah L.
Hannah L.6 years ago

What are they hiding?

Sandi C.
Sandi C6 years ago


Judith g.
Judith g6 years ago

What has happened to California? It's as backward as Texas!