Citizens to Federal Court: Do Not Allow Government to Release Petition Names

Posted by James Madison CenterJun 30, 20110 Comments

Thursday, June 30, 2011. On Wednesday, a citizen coalition led by Protect Marriage Washington asked a federal court to prevent Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed from publishing the names and addresses of thousands of citizens who signed a controversial referendum petition in 2009.

Approximately 138,000 Washingtonians signed a petition in 2009 to repeal a law that gave same-sex partners all the legal rights of married couples. The petition was successful in forcing a referendum vote in November of that year, but at the election Washingtonians voted to sustain the law. Now, almost two years later, and though the election is over, advocacy groups and the Secretary of State continue to press for the release of the names of petition signers.

The question is, Why do they want them? Not only is it unclear what purpose it would serve to release the names at this point, there is also a very good reason not to release them. Together with its briefing to the court, Protect Marriage Washington presented hundreds of pages of documented examples of threats and reprisals directed at supporters of traditional marriage, not only in Washington but across the country. The evidence includes death threats, extensive vandalism, overt threats of destruction of property, arson and threats of arson, intimidating emails and phone calls, hate mail, mailed envelopes containing white suspicious powder, blacklists, loss of employment and job opportunities, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry, including vandalism and threats directed at religious institutions and religious adherents—all for doing nothing more than standing up for traditional marriage.

“What is becoming increasingly evident,” said James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for Protect Marriage Washington, “is that some groups and individuals, certainly a minority, have resorted to advancing their cause, not by debating the merits of the issue but by discouraging participation in the democratic process itself. The First Amendment was designed to ensure that all groups, whatever their persuasion, could participate fully in our Republic. That breaks down when some groups or individuals are cowed into silence for fear that they or their families will be targeted or threatened if they speak up.”

The case is Doe #1 v. Reed. Protect Marriage Washington's brief in support of its motion for summary judgment is available on the website of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, at  cases/files/2011/06/209-Plaintiffs-Motion-Brief-for-Summary-Judgment.pdf.

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.