free speech

Should the Supreme Court Take the Referendum 71 ‘Protect the Names’ Case Tomorrow?


While you’re still reeling over the Supreme Court’s decision to block live feeds and YouTube clips of the federal Perry Prop 8 trial, we’re about to see whether the justices are going to back up their policy about making democracy in America less transparent. Tomorrow, the Court will decide whether to accept a request from opponents of Washington’s Referendum 71, which legalized the state’s “everything but marriage ” bill, to ban the release of the 138,000 names that signed a petition to put the measure on the ballot.

Although Washington’s election laws required the names be released, in September U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with 71’s opponents, and said releasing the names would violate their constitutional rights to free speech. In October, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Settle’s decision, concluding adding your name to a petition is not constitutionally protected political activity, and these people signed their names with the understanding their names would be released. But the Supremes temporarily stayed the decision while they weighed whether to review it themselves; if they opt to take the appeal, the names will stay shielded until their ruling.

As with anything the High Court does, its ruling will be far reaching. Unless the justices opt to keep their decision narrow in scope (certainly a real possibility), taking the case and ruling on it will set precedent for election measures across the land, and has the possibility to become one of the most significant rulings on First Amendment protections.

UPDATE: The justices are taking the case, titled John Doe #1 v. Reed (that’s Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed).

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  • emb

    This is a really interesting legal and Constitutional question, and it would be fascinating to hear the Court’s opinion. Sadly, this Court has a track record that does not suggest friendliness toward openness and transparency. To me, it seems clear that signing a petition that calls for a ballot question is obviously political speech. Unlike actually voting for that ballot question, however, which is traditionally done in secret (although there is no US Constitutional requirement that voting be secret), supporting the placement of a question on a ballot should not carry the same degree of protection and anonymity as voting; it’s similar in many ways to making financial contributions, which are certainly public acts. The issue in this case is that opponents of universal marriage rights know that their discriminatory opinions are held in contempt by others, and may result in boycots or ridicule. To that, I say Too Bad.

    Let’s all remember what the conservatroids taught us during the Dixie Chicks controversy (one of the singers made an anti-Bush statement at a concert overseas): We have freedom of speech in this country, but not freedom from the consequences of that speech. Opponents of same-sex marriage really ought to have the courage to state their loathesome opinions publicly, and deal with the fallout, if they’re so sure they’re right.

  • Ruby

    I live in Washington, and I want the ability to express my disagreement with the signers of the petition the old fashioned ‘Merican way: with my dollar. That is, let’s be very clear, without any violence or harrassment whatsoever.

    There were also deceitful tactics used to get signatures from supporters of marriage equality, and that will become more evident when names are released. This is about the people who wrote the initiative trying to cover their asses, and nothing else. They’re only afraid for their reputations and possible legal consequences when their lies are revealed. Not their safety.

  • Bruno

    I’d be utterly shocked if the supremes don’t take this case. And even more shocked if they do but don’t overturn the Washington law.

  • Letterman

    Last time I looked voting was done by private ballot and no one has the right to view anyones personal voting record.

  • Merv

    Aren’t petitions public documents pretty much by definition?

  • YellowRanger

    Let me guess, it ends with a 5-4 ruling in favor of letting the bigots hide under a rock…

  • schlukitz

    Is there any difference between SCOTUS blocking live feeds and YouTube clips of the federal Perry Prop 8 trial and protecting the names of people who back anti-homosexual lies, bigotry and hatred in referendums and putting on white head masks like the KKK who espoused terrorism and harm to black people if they didn’t toe the mark and mind their place?

    If there is, I fail to see it.

  • Herb

    schlukitz, you are correct. There is no difference.

  • AlwaysGay

    Heterosexual-only marriage supporters want to carry out voter fraud in upcoming petition drives to take away gay people’s rights that’s why they want names hiddens so they can forge names.

  • J. C.

    This example is why the perpetrators of bigotry want to be hidden. (Check out the website below) The only difference is that the cowardly scumbags who attack the GLBT Community, by twisting both the law and public sentiment, want the federal courts to be their “hoods” to hide their evil ways behind.

    “A Houston policeman, a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, poses with hood and mask, with his badge number covered with masking tape and hand. The photographer was blindfolded and taken in early morning to a remote gasoline station to take this photo. After the story was published the FBI sent a task force of agents to Texas and gave all policemen lie detector tests. A few hundred were fired or resigned. Photograph by Ron Laytner, Edit International.”

    [Click link below to see photo]

  • Anyway

    Here’s how I’m hoping it goes down:

    — the petition process is not about free
    speech; giving funds to support a campaign would be speech, but signing the petition is part of the state’s political process
    — as such, the states are free to define for themselves how to legislate themselves
    — if the state chooses to implement a voter initiative allowing public disclosure of petitioners, it’s therefore its prerogative to do so

  • AxelDC

    Signing a petition is a public legal action. If those signatures are not made public, there is no way to verify whether they are valid or not. Therefore, the state would be moving forward based on an invalid petition, making the entire referendum illegal.

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