With the U.S. Supreme Court last month accepting the challenge seeking to protect the names of petitions that helped put Referendum 71 on the ballot, the paperwork is starting to stream in. And from supporters of the anti-gay measure comes the argument that releasing the names of 71’s supporters, as required under existing state election law, would put average Johns and Janes in harm’s way. We’re worried the justices will agree.
On November 3, Washington State voters rejected Ref 71, the ballot measure that would’ve stripped away the state’s “everything but marriage” law. In order to get Ref 71 in front of voters, Protect Marriage Washington collected 138,000 signatures. Naturally, gay rights activists want to know who those names are; the website WhoSigned.org promised to publish them online. So Project Marriage Washington took the matter to court, and the Supremes accepted. Nevermind that both Secretary of State Sam Reed and state Attorney General Rob McKenna said the names must be released, according to that silly state law thing.
Attorney James Bopp Jr., representing the plaintiffs in John Doe #1 v. Reed, tells the court, “There are two great enemies of citizen participation in our Republic, corruption and intimidation in elections. Much attention has been paid to preventing corruption, but this case is about protecting the people from intimidation while engaging in core political speech.”
We fear the Supreme Court will think so too.
Two recent decisions from the court have shown the majority of justices are less interested in transparency and letting average civilians participate in democracy than they are about protecting institutions. First, the Supreme Court banned video feeds of Perry, the federal Prop 8 trial, under the guise of protecting status quo, rather than letting Americans actually witness justice in action. Second, the justices ruled to give corporations the same status as people when it comes to campaign finance laws, ruling the First Amendment protections of huge firms is just are important as the rights of a single soul when it comes to supporting people running for elected office.
Both moves were less about promoting open democracy than letting the system of government this country relies on become more muddled in confusion and closed doors.
And if the Supreme Court follows this pattern, you can expect it will permit the supporters of Ref 71 stay in the shadows, and allowed to infringe on the rights of others anonymously.