The U.S. Supreme Court sided with supporters of same-sex "marriage" saying that the identities of signers of petitions protecting traditional marriage must be made public. The Court provided for a means for petitioners to beg to remain confidential if they can prove that the homosexualists will harm them once petition signers' names and addresses are published on searchable on-line databases.
UPDATE 8/11/10: Federal judge orders Washington state not to release petition signer names
UPDATE 6/26/10: Will death threats by 'gays' convince judges?
-- From "Court Rejects Secrecy on Ballot Petitions" by Adam Liptak, New York Times 6/24/10
People who sign petitions to put referendums on state ballots do not have a general right under the First Amendment to keep their names secret, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in an 8-to-1 decision.
The near-unanimity of the decision masked a deep division on a more focused question that the justices left for another day: Are there good reasons to protect the identities of people who signed petitions concerning a measure opposing gay rights and say they fear harassment and retaliation should their names be posted on the Internet?
The case came from Washington State, which allows voters to reject legislation through a referendum process. Last year, opponents of a state domestic partnership law known as the “everything but marriage” act gathered more than 130,000 signatures, enough to place a referendum on the November ballot.
Several groups had asked the state to turn over the names under its public records law, and two groups said they intended to post the names on the Internet. Their goal, according to a news release, was to encourage conversations among friends, relatives and neighbors that “can be uncomfortable for both parties.”
Protect Marriage Washington, a group that supports traditional marriage, sued to block release of the names, saying disclosure would probably result in “threats, harassment and reprisal.” It relied in large part on responses to the disclosure of the names of people who had provided financial support for Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned a court decision allowing same-sex marriage.
A federal judge granted the request to withhold the names, but that order was overturned by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.
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From "Ref. 71 signatures are public, Supreme Court rules" by Janet I. Tu and Kyung M. Song, Seattle Times staff reporters 6/24/10
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Washington's law that says ballot-measure petitions are public records, the drawn-out battle over whether to release Referendum 71 petition signatures is not over.
The high court ruled Thursday in an 8-1 decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, that disclosing the identities of petition-signers does not, generally, violate the First Amendment.
But the justices also said their decision "does not foreclose success" should Ref. 71 sponsors decide to pursue an exemption in a lower court — which the sponsors said they will do.
Those who want to keep Ref. 71 signers' names confidential now will have to prove in U.S. District Court that there is "reasonable probability" that disclosing the names will lead to threats, harassment and reprisals.
That's "a high standard to meet, and they just don't have the evidence to meet it," contended Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who argued the case on behalf of the state in April.
. . . James Bopp Jr., the lead attorney for Protect Marriage Washington, said "supporters of traditional marriage have been subject to death threats, vandalism, and even the loss of their jobs" in Washington, California and elsewhere. "We are confident that the District Court will agree that these tactics have no place in the discussion of marriage and will prevent the release of the personal information."
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the state has a strong interest in guarding against election fraud and rooting out invalid signatures on petitions — an interest that defeats the argument that petition disclosure is unconstitutional in all cases.
But he also said "upholding the law against a broad-based challenge does not foreclose a litigant's success in a narrower one."
Justice Samuel Alito, though, in his concurring opinion, seemed to find the argument that Ref. 71 signers would be subject to intimidation persuasive, and the state's interest in compelling disclosure inadequate, saying courts "should be generous" in granting exceptions to disclosure in such cases.
Thomas, the sole dissenter, wrote that the Public Records Act, which subjects all referendum and initiative petitions to public disclosure, is unconstitutional because there are less restrictive means to preserve the integrity of elections.
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