by David Ammons | February 16th, 2010
The U.S. Supreme Court has set an April 28 hearing date for a nationally watched public records-elections case arising from Washington’s practice of allow public release of initiative and referendum petitions under terms of the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act.
The high court last month agreed to hear an appeal brought by opponents of Washington’s new “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law. Now the court has scheduled the oral arguments for Wednesday morning, April 28, the last case currently docketed for this current term.
Protect Marriage Washington, which mounted Referendum 71 last fall in an attempt to halt the new domestic partnership measure that passed the 2009 Legislature, won a district court ban on disclosure of R-71 petitions last September. But the challengers then lost in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals bench said the Secretary of State’s policy of releasing petitions as a matter of public record did not violate the First Amendment rights of initiative and referendum backers.Challengers assert that if their names and addresses are divulged and posted on the Internet by their adversaries, it could lead to harassment, injury and property damage. The Secretary and Attorney General Rob McKenna said the popular Public Records Act includes no exemption for petitions. Signing initiatives is a public act of citizen legislating, and that transparency is required under terms of the state’s sweeping records law, they said.
The high court has the case on an expedited review schedule. A decision would be expected by summertime.
The court said the oral arguments and briefing should revolve around two main questions.
Reed’s state Elections Division has been under both federal and state ban against releasing the R-71 petitions. The state also is being challenged in Thurston County Superior Court brought by initiative activist Tim Eyman.
Voters approved R-71 by a vote of 53-47 in November, upholding the law expanding the rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners, both same-sex and heterosexual couples where at least one partner is 62 or older.