WA: Court prohibits release of referendum petitions; will consider harassment exception
Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom
Court Prohibits Release of Referendum Petitions; Will Consider Harassment Exception
Today, a federal judge entered an order preventing Washington from releasing the names and addresses of individuals that signed a referendum petition to repeal Washington’s “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law. Several opposition groups threatened to post the names of the petition signers on the Internet in an effort to encourage uncomfortable conversations with petition signers. Similar efforts around the country have resulted in death threats, property damage, and other harassment directed at supporters of traditional marriage.
Protect Marriage Washington, the sponsor of the petition, obtained a ruling last year preventing Washington from releasing the names and addresses of the petition signers. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, and held that disclosure of referendum petitions generally does not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, the Supreme Court sent the case back to Washington to consider whether disclosure of the identities of the petition signers is unconstitutional in light of the widespread harassment directed at supporters of traditional marriage. Today’s ruling will allow the Court to consider Protect Marriage Washington’s case.
James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for Protect Marriage Washington, is pleased with the Court’s ruling. “Supporters of traditional marriage have received death threats and have had their personal property destroyed after standing up to protect the institution of marriage. No one should have to endure the harassment that these individuals have endured in their personal and professional lives for standing up for what they believe in. I am confident that when the judge considers all of the evidence, copies of the petitions will not be released to the public.”
Today’s ruling will remain in effect until the Court can consider Protect Marriage Washington’s arguments that disclosure of the petitions will expose petition signers to a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, and reprisals. The Court has asked the parties to agree to an accelerated schedule. No further hearings in the case are scheduled at this time.
More information about the case is available on the Madison Center website, http://www.jamesmadisoncenter.org, under “Doe v. Reed.”
James Bopp, Jr. has a national federal and state election law practice. He is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and former Co-Chairman of the Election Law Subcommittee of the Federalist Society.