We've filed an amicus brief today with the Supreme Court of the United States in an important case that protects the First Amendment rights of petitioners to remain anonymous when participating in ballot measures.
In our amicus brief filed today, we urge the high court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that Washington State could release the identities and personal information of residents who signed petitions seeking a vote of the people on a law passed by the Washington legislature, which extended traditional marriage rights to same-sex partnerships.
The fact is the Supreme Court has an opportunity to correct a damaging decision that threatens the constitutional protections afforded to political speech. The process of initiating legislation is constitutionally protected as well.
To force petitioners who oppose controversial ballot measures to disclose their identities as well as personal information is not only wrong, but violates core political speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
We are hopeful the high court reverses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The case evolved after advocates of a recently enacted Washington State law dubbed the everything but marriage law a measure extending traditional marriage benefits to same-sex couples sought to disclose the names and personal information of those residents who signed petitions opposing the measure. Supporters of traditional marriage signed petitions to have the law put to a vote of the people before it could take affect. A federal district court ordered Washington State could disclose the names and personal information of petition signors. The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court decision and ruled that the state could release the names and personal information of those who signed petitions, in essence opposing the pro same-sex legislation.
In our brief, we argue that circulating and signing referenda and initiative petitions constitutes core political speech and are entitled, under the First Amendment, to advocate for political causes anonymously. We also contend that the right of anonymous political participation is every bit as important as the secret ballot.
The importance of protecting those rights is summarized in this quote directly from our brief: There is no meaningful First Amendment distinction between circulating ballot initiative petitions, signing them, and voting for them once they qualify for the ballot. All three activities are indispensable to the power of the people to initiate legislation. Stripping the right to anonymity from any of the three activities threatens an essential function of popular sovereignty. The state's interest in protecting the integrity of ballot initiatives does not come close to justifying so severe a violation of First Amendment rights.
You can read our amicus brief here.
In our brief we also note that advocates of the everything but marriage law admitted wanting to confront those who opposed the measure and conduct whats been described as uncomfortable conversations with them because of their opposition to the law.
We argue that such disclosures put petitioners at risk of severe harassment and retaliation not unlike what happened in California to those who supported Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. In addition to infringing upon the free speech and advocacy rights of petition signors, we contend that the appeals court decision offends their right to political association by deterring participation and effectively choking off dissent.
The case before the high court is Doe #1 v. Reed (No. 09-559) and oral arguments are scheduled for April.