US Supreme Court Denies Stay in Doe v. Reed. Public Disclosure of Ballot Petitions Affirmed

The high court has rejected (once again) efforts by gay marriage foes to block the release of signatures gathered on Referendum 71 petitions.  As I argued in my amicus brief in support of the State of Washington’s long-standing Public Disclosure Act, signatures on petitions to qualify ballot measures should be in the public domain.

The Court’s order is here. Not surprising, Justice Alito favored a stay, again putting him at odds with the other justices.

A DVD of the 138,000 individuals who signed Referendum 71 costs $15 (plus shipping costs). It can be purchased through the State Archives, which can be reached at (360) 586-1492 or research@sos.wa.gov.

I’ve coauthored this paper, forthcoming in Political Behavior, which uses signatures on ballot petitions in Arkansas and Florida to measure the effect of signing a ballot petition on voter turnout. I have another coauthored paper in the works that examines who actually signs ballot petitions.

 

Opponent of Referendum Is Arrested

in Equatorial Guinea.

Now this is what “threats, harassment, and reprisals” look like when government regulations “seriously chill speech and association,” as attorney Jim Bopp and the plaintiff’s in Doe v. Reed failed to show when challenging the state of Washington’s public release of signed petitions for Referendum 71,  an effort by social conservatives to repeal the legislature’s bill granting same-sex civil union protections.

In fact, if the politically-motivated arrest of a supporter of Referendum 71 in Washington for suspicion of murder had occurred, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle likely would have supported an as-applied challenge to Washington’s Public Records Act.  But alas, as Settle noted, “… if a group could succeed in an as-applied challenge to the PRA by simply providing a few isolated incidents of profane or indecent statements, gestures, or other examples of uncomfortable conversations that are not necessarily even related or directly connected to the issue at hand, disclosure would become the exception instead of the rule.”

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote pointedly in his concurring opinion in Doe v. Reed why public disclosure is necessary, and how it can embolden citizens in the U.S.

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance…Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Rather than a threat to individual liberty, public disclosure is a bulwark against government oppression, as we’re seeing in Equatorial Guinea.

It’s Time to Disclose Washington’s Referendum 71 Petition Signatures

As reported in the Seattle Times, a federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, is expected to rule in the next two weeks on whether the 137,500 names collected on Referendum 71 petitions should be made public.  The 2009 signature gathering campaign by Protect Marriage was an effort to use a popular referendum to overturn the state legislature’s domestic-partnership law.

As the lead author of  an amicus brief on behalf of the state of Washington and its defense of the state’s Public Records Act in the 2010 case, Doe v. Reed, in which the US Supreme Court upheld the state’s interest in disclosure, there is no question that the names on the petitions should be made public.  As I wrote in my amicus brief, there’s little credible evidence that signers of Referendum 71 petitions in Washington were subject to threats or harassment.  As our amicus brief states:

Nor does disclosure create any risk of intimidation or harassment of signers. Of the approximately 600,000 voters who signed referendum petitions in Washington in the last decade, Petitioners have failed to identify a single individual who claims to have been harassed or intimidated as a result of mere disclosure of her signature. More than a million names of signers of petitions for referenda and initiatives opposing gay marriage have been posted on the internet. Yet there is no evidence that any of these signers has faced any threat of retaliation or harassment by reason of that disclosure.

Furthermore, as we note in our brief:

Disclosure does not “infringe ‘privacy of identity, association and belief,’ as Petitioners suggest, because there is no reasonable expectation or assumption of privacy or secrecy: any voter who signs a petition knows that her signature, name and address, and the fact that she is signing, are being put on paper in the hands of a stranger, in a public place, in front of others, and then submitted to a government agency. Further, public disclosure of petitions is widespread and routine in states that allow ballot initiatives and referenda.

Public disclosure of signatures on ballot measures is also necessary to ensure fraud is not being committed during signature gathering phase and the state of Washington has a compelling interest in making signatures part of the public record.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle should heed the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote pointedly in his concurring opinion in Doe v. Reed, why disclosure is necessary, and can embolden citizens.

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self governance…Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Signed,

Not Anonymous.