Supreme Court skeptical of signature privacy arguments
Protect Marriage Washington and representing Attorney James Bopp argue that the release of petition names and campaign donor names can lead to harassment. Bopp points to the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 as an example of harassment. "They said they wanted to post them on the Internet in order to encourage people to have 'uncomfortable' — and that's a quote — 'uncomfortable conversations' with them. So the whole purpose had nothing to do with the validity of the signature, and it had everything to do with harassing and intimidating these people," said Bopp during the 2010 Supreme Court case.
However, during the Wednesday hearing, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "The fact is that running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage. And the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights." In regards to Bopp's argument of the fear of harassment, Justice Antonin Scalia said that some forms of boycotts and picketing are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.
The state of Washington, however, argues that the referendum process is a public process and thus petition and campaign donor names should remain public. Specifically, Attorney General Rob McKenna argues that because petition-gatherers circulated petitions in public locations, where circulators and petition signers were visible by anyone walking by, such names should be released.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in what is most likely his last scheduled argument prior to his retirement, asked "Is there [not a] public interest in encouraging debate on the underlying issue," by releasing the names?
- Open Secrets Blog, "Supreme Court to Grapple With First Amendment, Disclosure and Transparency in Ballot Measure Case," April 28, 2010
- NPR, "Supreme Court Weighs Petition-Signers' Anonymity," April 28, 2010
- The New York Times, "Bid for Right to Sign Ballot Petitions in Secret Stirs Skeptics on the Supreme Court," April 28, 2010
- Mother Jones, "Citizens United, Take Two," April 28, 2010
- Los Angeles Times, "Supreme Court critical in domestic partnership case," April 28, 2010