supreme court

The Fate of Releasing the Names of Washington’s Bigots Is In Rob McKenna’s Hands

Last time we discussed Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, it was in the contest of Dan Savage calling him “trans” — as an insult. But while McKenna may be a Republican intent on challenging the federal government over healthcare reform, he’s also the guy arguing in front of the Supreme Court tomorrow for the public disclosure of Referendum 71’s signatories, something marriage equality opponents are trying to keep secret.

McKenna, naturally, is defending the validity of Washington’s public disclosures laws, which call for the release of any names that signed on to Protect Marriage Washington’s effort to put the state’s “everything but marriage” law up to voters. (Voters approved Ref 71, keeping domestic partnership rules in place.) PMW would have the Supreme Court believe that releasing the names violates the voters’ right to free speech — because, their lawyers say, these people will be subject to harassment if their identities are known. (That this argument disregards the notion that gay Washingtonians are much more often the victims of harassment, while disturbing, is in fact, immaterial.)

Having already won the case in federal court, McKenna this morning is making a repeat appeal before the nation’s highest court.

McKenna himself will argue the state’s case before the court — a demonstration of its importance and national ramifications. Before he left Olympia on Tuesday, McKenna and his team participated in two moot courts — in essence practice sessions. The attorney general has been in seclusion in Washington, D.C., since then and participated in two more moot court sessions. The idea behind the moot courts, McKenna said, is to try to anticipate every single question Supreme Court justices might ask and prepare answers accordingly. “I have to answer all the questions. They get to ask them one at a time,” McKenna said in a press conference before his departure.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, who will be at McKenna’s side Wednesday, said he’s watched the attorney general on the national stage before. “These are not nice, gentle questions,” Reed said. Justices ask provocative and challenging questions that are often accusatory in tone. Thank God, Reed said, the attorney general is quick on his feet.
McKenna said signing initiative and referendum petitions is a way citizens participate in the legislative process. He said that those names become public records when the sponsor submits petition sheets to the Secretary of State for verification. “We don’t legislate in secret in this state,” McKenna said. “This is a legislative act, not core political speech.”