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Court to decide Jan. 15 whether to take R-71 case

by Brian Zylstra | December 29th, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will decide on January 15, 2010, whether to accept or reject the judgeappeal of last fall’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld Washington State’s practice of treating ballot measure petitions as releasable public records.

The high court will meet on the 15th to review several cases, voting on each whether to accept or reject. The court likely will announce later that day or the following Monday if it will take the R-71 petition case. If the court declines to take the case, the 9th Circuit Court’s decision will stand. If the court accepts the case, it will likely be argued in April, with a decision to be handed down by the end of June. There also is a state court injunction entered by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks that also prevents the release of the R-71 petitions. The case in front of Judge Hicks is stayed pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s action.

Protect Marriage Washington, which used Referendum 71 to seek a public vote on the state’s “everything but marriage”  domestic partnership law, filed a lawsuit last summer with the U.S. District Court in Tacoma to block release of the R-71 petitions. U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled to block the petitions’ release, but the 9th Circuit later overturned that decision and unanimously held that the state’s policy of public release does not violate First Amendment free speech. Protect Marriage Washington quickly asked the high court to review the case.

The state Elections Division, backed by the Attorney General, says the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act requires release of all public records that are not exempt from disclosure.

Early in December, Deputy Solicitor General William Collins of the State Attorney General’s Office urged the Supreme Court to not take the case, and to allow the 9th Circuit decision to stand. Collins said several states allow release, and that the First Amendment challenge is only now arising, indicating that there is no important national question involved.

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