Federal court makes Washington petition signers' names public

Submitted by LDieringer on Thu, 10/20/2011 - 12:29pm

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

A federal court in Washington state lifted an order preventing the release of the identities of more than 137,000 people who signed a 2009 petition to challenge a Washington law that would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Monday's ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Doe v. Reed, in which the Court rejected the argument that allowing any disclosure of referendum petitions under the state public records act violated individuals' First Amendment rights, but sent the case back to the lower court to determine if such records should be released in this particular case.

First, the district court noted that the organization seeking to keep the names and addresses of the petition signers from being released, Protect Marriage Washington, would have to show "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure [of personal information] will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties."

The court went on to explain that, traditionally, courts have never allowed parties to resist disclosure where “a group, organization, or political party . . . did not have minor status.” With respect to the Referendum 71 petition signers, the court found that they were unlike groups which have received such protection from disclosure in the past in part because of their minority status, such as the NAACP and the Socialist Worker Party.

Also, see this opinion from the News Tribune.