Eye On Boise

U.S. Supreme Court upholds public records law in Washington signatures case

The state of Washington won today in the U.S. Supreme Court - and so did Idaho - as the high court upheld Washington's Public Records Act and its requirement that signatures on a referendum petition be public, not secret. Idaho has similar laws, and joined 22 other states in filing "friend of the court" briefs backing Washington's position. The group "Protect Marriage Washington" sued to prevent the release of the names of those who signed Referendum 71, the state's unsuccessful measure that sought to overturn a same-sex domestic partnership law, arguing that the Washington public records law was unconstitutional because making the signers' names public could subject them to harassment for exercising their right to free speech.

In an 8-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court found that openness is vitally important to help states make sure signatures on referendum or initiative petitions are valid. "Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures," Roberts wrote. "Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot." Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter; the case is Doe vs. Reed, and you can read the court's opinion here, and more on this story here.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said, "This is a big victory for the people of Washington state and the cause of government transparency and accountability here and in other states. I am delighted."




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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