The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that those who sign referendum petitions may no longer be able to do so anonymously. In doing this, the Court rejected the claims of an anti-gay rights group, who argued the ruling went against their First Amendment protection of political expression.
The Court’s 8-1 desicion said that states have a vaild reson to make names public. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that it “helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures.
“Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”
The ruling was specifically questioned by those who signed a petition in the hope of quashing legislation that allows same-sex couples to register domestic partnerships. The complainants said they were concerned gay rights groups may harass them, post their names and addresses on the Internet and encourage supporters of the law to take them to task.
However, Justice Antonin Scalia said there was no First Amendment protection in the Constitution for the challengers to invoke.
The case in question pertained to a 2009 Washington law that gives same-sex couples and those over 65 to register as domestic partners. Unofficially known as the “everything but marriage” act, dissenters sought to have it repealed. In their attempts, they managed to garner a significant number of signatories – enough to put Referendum 71 on the ballot.
During the campaign, gay and pro-gay groups sought to acquire the names of signatories, invoking Washington’s public records laws. Arguing that it went against their Constitutional rights, a federal court forbade the disclosure, which remained in place while the case was considered. However, the law was upheld in November.
With the case overturned, Justice Samuel Alito said that athough he was of the majority opinion that petition signers could not expect privacy, he was sympathetic to their concerns.