by David Ammons | December 9th, 2009
The Washington Attorney General is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to turn aside a request to block the state from releasing Referendum 71 petitions.
On Jan. 8, the high court is expected to consider a request from R-71 opponents to hear their challenge of an appeals court decision that upheld the state’s practice of treating petitions as releasable public records. We should know shortly thereafter whether the court will take the case. The earliest it could get on the calendar probably is late April. The state Elections Division, backed by the Attorney General, says the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act requires release of all public documents for which there is no exemption. The Legislature has never exempted petitions.Protect Marriage Washington, foes of same-sex marriage, who sponsored the public vote on the state’s “everything-but-marriage” domestic partnership law, successfully blocked release of R-71 petitions in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned the judge and unanimously held that the state’s policy of public release does not violate First Amendment free speech. The group quickly moved for a Supreme Court review.
This week was the deadline for the state’s response. In a 36-page filing, Deputy Solicitor General William Collins urged the court to not take the case, and to allow the appeals decision to stand. He said numerous states permit release, and that the First Amendment challenge is only now arising, indicating that there is no important national question involved.
Collins said the state voters want transparency and accountability in their government, including the elections process, and use open public records as an important oversight tool. He noted that the 9th Circuit explicitly said that signing a petition is not “anonymous free speech,” but rather a public act as part of citizen-legislating.
Both the high court and Thurston County Superior Court have placed a hold on the release of all state petitions until this is sorted out.
R-71 was approved by the voters last month 53%-47%. The new law took effect last week. For more information, visit the Domestic Partnership registry.