Writings and observations

Order: Release those names

As per normal, this decision presumably will be appealed. But it has a ring of eventual finality – given the U.S. Supreme Court’s generally open-records recent history.

Released today, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle of Tacoma in Doe v. Sam Reed said that Protect Marriage Washington doesn’t have the right to keep secret the names of people who signed a petition to put a referendum on the ballot. The referendum, R-71, was proposed by a group of opponents to gay marriage on the broad extension of the state’s domestic partnership rules.

The argument was over whether the names on the petitions ought to be considered private, the way ordinary votes are (votes, say, on the referendum after it was on the ballot). But before it could get to the ballot came a policy choice about putting it there – the sort of policy choice that usually has operated in more sunlight.

PMW argued that people might be subject to harassment if their names were released.

But as in some other cases, evidence of harassment was thin.

“Similarly here [as in other cases], PMW was able to secure 137,000 signers for R-71 and obtained nearly half the vote with 838,842 votes. And Doe has not supplied competent evidence or adequate authority to support its claim that R-71 signers constitute a fringe organization with unpopular or unorthodox beliefs or one that is seeking to further ideas that have been ‘historically and pervasively rejected and vilified by both this country’s government and its citizens.’ “Pretty much the opposite, one would think, and the court found similarities between this case and others were more open rules applied.

Testimony was brought from a number of initiative supporters saying they had been – in their terms anyway – harassed. But as the judge noted, these were all public figures, all well known for their stands on gay-related issues for some time, and little evidence was brought that their involvement in R-71 specifically subjected them to harassment. Besides that, the judge noted that more than 800 contributors had (as per the state’s campaign finance law) been publicly listed as backers of the R-71 effort, with little evidence of any blowback.

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