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U.S. Supremes: Releasing initiative names not barred by First Amendment

OLYMPIA — Round One in the fight over names on initiative petitions goes to the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning in Doe v. Reed that the First Amendment is not a barrier to the state releasing the names of people who sign initiatives or referendums. The state’s concerns about honesty and transparency in the election process in general trump federal privacy concerns, in general.

We say in general because this was the broad challenge of the signature release by attorneys for Referendum 71 and Protect Washington Marriage, who wanted to overturn new rules involving same sex unions and others that are short of marriage but more liberal than before the law changed in 2009. Ruling 8-1, the Supremes said that they weren’t going to give a blanket ban on releasing names, which the R-71 sponsors said was warranted under the First Amendment.

But a case-specific ban would be possible, the high court said. The case now goes back to the U.S. District Court of Western Washington for Round Two, where R-71 proponents will get a chance to make the case that releasing the names on these particular petitions would subject some signers to harassment.

Beyond that, there will be a Round Three in the Washington State Courts, where initiative sponsors are arguing that stricter Washington State Constitution rights of privacy would bar the release of names.

Seems possible this won’t be settled for several years. Which brings up the question of how many of those names and addresses won’t be any good, anyway, from people passing on or moving on.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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