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Court hearing doesn’t go well for Washington anti-gay petition signatories

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2010

Last year anti-gay activists in Washington State collected signatures to get a referendum on the ballot challenging the legislature’s domestic partnership laws. The people subsequently voted to keep the laws recognizing gay couples.

But one of the issues that arose from that action was the question as to whether signatures on petitions – specifically anti-gay petitions – were public information or or protected anonymous political speech. Supporters of the petition argued that they were skurrrred of the evil gays who might take their business to a more supportive company or might frown at them in the supermarket.

And so a judge blocked the releasing of the info. The Secretary of State appealed the decision arguing that the State had an interest in open air laws. The decision was overturned, appealed again, and now is being argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Anti-gay activists want all public disclosure laws declared to be unconstitutional and to conduct their animus behind the veil of anonymity.

But today did not go well for them. Justices, including at least one who is inclined to be sympathetic to conservative causes, were not much impressed by their arguments. (AP)

Several justices questioned whether people who voluntarily signed a petition asking for a public referendum could then expect privacy. They were concerned that keeping the names of petitioners private might invalidate other vital open records like voter registration rolls or lists of donors to political candidates.

“Running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, who also called the arguments to keep the names private “touchy-feely.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito was there to go to bat for the anti-gays.

But Justice Samuel Alito questioned Washington’s attorney general, Robert McKenna, on whether his office was willing to give out the home address of its lawyers so people could show up and have “uncomfortable conversations” with them after-hours.

McKenna said office addresses and telephone numbers of his lawyers were public.

But Alito appeared to be in the minority (Wall Street Journal)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned the relevance of that precedent. She and Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that making public the names of petition signers could allow people to verify whether the signatures were real.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested the court was unlikely to strike down the law on its face, but might find that in some circumstances names should be withheld if the signers could show they faced a threat.

I would hope that this would be a real threat, not an irrational fear based on imagined concerns.

Comments

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Tony P
April 28th, 2010 | LINK

I’ve been fighting the public record squabble here in RI. I purchased a copy of the voter registration rolls and have on occasion posted an address or two.

You wouldn’t believe the shit I had to put up with. WordPress suspended my blog for about a week until I pointed out that their privacy policy did not protect the subjects of blog posts. Crack legal team they have there.

And of course everyone brings up the case of Dr. George Tiller – look people it is ALL public record. Every last bit of it including your disposed criminal history.

Burr
April 28th, 2010 | LINK

Still think it’s totally absurd to expect anonymity when you’re writing your name on a piece of paper that anyone after you can read for themselves.

Bryan
April 28th, 2010 | LINK

Sorry – shouldn’t the title to this post refer to the OPPONENTS of Ref. 71, instead of the supporters?

Dennis
April 28th, 2010 | LINK

Our brilliant Chief Justice strikes again! The signers of a petition should remain anonymous if they face a threat. Makes sense since the well being of people threatened by the law are also not named. Let’s all go out and buy a burka and level the playing field.

Désirée
April 29th, 2010 | LINK

@Bryan – the supporters were the people who wanted to keep the names private and it didn’t go well for them in court, so no, the title isn’t wrong

Timothy Kincaid
April 29th, 2010 | LINK

Bryan and Desiree,

I changed it to avoid confusion

John Doucette
April 29th, 2010 | LINK

If one is looking for anonymity and privacy, one shouldn’t be signing petitions. If one signs a petition, one should have the courage of one’s supposed convictions/beliefs to be public about it. I’m sure that if the shoe was on the other foot these people would be all gung ho to publish names. In fact, they do so when they are attacking those with whom they disagree.

aj
May 2nd, 2010 | LINK

I agree with John. There was alot of controversy when the names were checked. MANY were disqualified (for a variety of reasons). There is a line on the petition where the pollster is supposed to sign that he/she was witness to ALL of the names on the petitions being signed. One person (if accurate) was able to get so many people to sign that he MUST have had to have MANY people sign every hour for many days straight (even in the middle of the night, he didn’t even take time off to sleep,eat,etc).

I did find it humourous that “they” are so scared of being attacked (mean stares at grocery stores, phone calls, etc), when the ONLY “attack” I heard of was a blogger that DID make threats ON HIS BLOG. He was later arrested, I believe. Even in the court hearing, they couldn’t come up with ONE tangible, real life threatening act of intimidation. Just a lot of “they might…”
I admit that when the petitions were going around, I kinda looked at the names above where I was expected to sign (just to see if I recognized anyone), but that was as far as it went. If I had, I would have asked them WHY they signed, not bully them. I did find that many were confused about it (when it came time to vote). They weren’t sure if an APPROVE meant that rights would be taken away or kept.
BTW: when I had the petition, I just responded to the pollster with: “I don’t think discrimination is right, and this is just cruel.” Said loudly enough for those near me to hear and maybe reconsider, then walked away.

A little of an aside, I just read that CWA wants these names to be kept private, yet in the past, they demanded the names be made public (in another case, where it was in their interest for public disclosure). They seem to want it both ways, hm??

Just my 2 cents.
aj

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