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Reed, McKenna optimistic about R-71 case

by David Ammons | April 28th, 2010

Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed emerged from the U.S. Supreme Court today optimistic that the high court will allow Washington and other states to treat initiative and referendum petitions as releasable public records.

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McKenna, making his third appearance before the court, and Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, both said they counted a majority of the justices who seemed sympathetic to Washington’s argument that the vote-approved Public Records Act requires release of petitions to those who make a request and pay the duplication cost. They said the court didn’t seem inclined to pull down all disclosure laws.

“My team and I think it went well,” McKenna said in a joint news conference with Reed after the one-hour hearing before a packed court, including Justice John Paul Stevens hearing his last case.  Reed concurred, saying McKenna did a persuasive job and that he’s optimistic of a win, which would be nationally significant.

McKenna said he expects a ruling within about eight weeks, by the end of June. One likely outcome, he indicated, is that the high court refuses to adopt a blanket constitutional guarantee of anonymity for people who sign petitions, but leaves open the door for specific exceptions if a sponsor can show a judge compelling evidence that harassment and intimidation of signers is likely because of the controversial nature of the issue and the vulnerability of the sponsors.

Reed said he was happy that the court used the hearing to elevate the discussion about open records, transparency and the role of citizens in petitioning their government, rather than getting sidelined into a discussion about gay marriage and specific initiatives.

This case, Doe v. Reed, did arise from Washington’s Referendum 71 last year. That was placed on the statewide ballot by Protect Marriage Washington, foes of a new state “everything but marriage” law expanding the rights of registered state domestic partners, both gay and straight couples.  (The new law was sustained by a comfortable margin, 53-47.) Protect Marriage Washington successfully moved into federal court to block the release of R-71 petitions, as the Secretary of State had planned to do within the context of the Public Records Act.  U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma said the policy violates the right of “anonymous” free political speech.  The 9th Circuit, however, said the state’s policy is fine and violates no constitutional rights.  The high court then agreed to review the whole case, which is being touted for its national significance.

2 Responses to “Reed, McKenna optimistic about R-71 case”

  1. McKenna has good reason to be optimistic b/c it looks like he will win the case. But for the same reason, Sec. Reed should be feeling rather badly right about now. Very soon, the petitions will be made available to the public and the public will be able to do what Sec. Reed refused to do – a master check on all of the signatures accepted by your office’s army of minimally trained temps.

    Very soon, the whole state will know about the one-sided process of review that your office conducted – even after a sample of the accepted signatures showed substantial temp error. And the state will know that R71 never should have been allowed on the ballot to begin with and that millions of dollars and countless hours were spent on a campaign that never should have happened.

  2. I don’t understand your vitriol towards the Secretary of State’s office, Mary. It’s been consistent since election season and I feel you’re painting both the office and its employees in an unfair light.

    Temporary workers are used by the State in many departments; taxation around quarterly filing time, the SoS around whenever something goes on the ballot, or contracted employees in a park during an event. I’ve been a temp in jobs as varied as paralegal to petsitter, and though I’ve never worked for the State of Washington, temporary labor is an economic, fair, and cost-effective way to accomplish the end result: keeping your business, government office, or school running smoothly.

    Washington has long considered petition signatures to be construed in a favorable light. R-71 got enough signatures with qualified temps, experienced master checkers, and lots of supervision. No referendum has ever been given the “master check” you suggest. Just because you and I found R-71′s supporters to be out of line with our personal morals doesn’t mean that a different level of scrutiny should be applied.

    The matter got to the ballot. Unlike in almost every other state, we won. Perhaps the campaign you feel “never should have happened” backed what we knew all along: the voters of Washington spoke and they supported us. Nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the law not falling in line with the populace because the populace voted to approve it.

    Secretary of State Reed’s office did what they were supposed to. I doubt that given how much the office has agitated for release of these signatories that there will be many surprises. The office is one-sided, indeed…it’s on the side of all of us as citizens of Washington, whether or not we agree.

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