free speech

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

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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).