SCOTUS rules R-71 petition signatures can be made public
OLYMPIA, Washington: After nearly a year of debate the United States Supreme Court ruled today that petition signatures can be made public. Justices ruled 8-1 with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting. Doe v. Reed is a court case that stemmed from the November 3, 2009 vote on Washington Referendum 71. The case addressed the issue of whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or whether the names of those signers can be made public. The ruling, not only released the names of petition signers but also upheld Washington's Public Records Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, said, "The State's interest in preserving the integrity of the electoral process suffices to defeat the argument that the PRA is unconstitutional with respect to referendum petitions in general."
The case officially began April 28, 2010. State Attorney General Rob McKenna represented Washington's open records law, while James Bopp represented Protect Marriage Washington. McKenna argues that the referendum process is a public process and "You don't legislate in secret, and other voters, other citizens, have a right to know who among them is demanding an election on a legislatively approved law." On the other hand, Bopp argues that what is at stake in the case is the First Amendment rights of voters to sign petitions in privacy.
In reaction to the ruling Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said, "We're pleased the Supreme Court ruled in favor of disclosure, upholding the public's right to double-check the work of signature gatherers and government -- and giving them the ability to learn which voters are directing the state to hold an election on a new law. Citizen legislating is too important to be conducted in secret." According to reports, of the 24 states with initiative and referendum only 23 disclose petition signatures.
Despite the high court's ruling, the specific release of Washington Referendum 71 petition names remains pending. According to state officials current laws exist to protect people who are in danger of being threatened. Plaintiffs said they plan to seek an exemption for R-71 signers.