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US Supremes take R-71 names case
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US Supremes take R-71 names case

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The names of Washington state voters who signed Referendum 71 petitions will not be released anytime soon.

The US Supreme Court intervened in the case this week, preventing Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed from releasing the names. The vote to keep the names confidential pending a review by the high court was 8 to 1, with only Justice Stevens voting that the names may be released now.

The Supreme Court decision makes it highly unlikely that the names will become public before the November 3 election, and the issue may not be resolved until next summer.

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled last week that Reed may release the names. The actual release was delayed, however, because a Thurston County judge had issued a restraining order blocking publication of petition-signers in an unrelated case brought by initiative maven Tim Eyman.

Eyman's case is a broad lawsuit against disclosing the names of any petition-signers. It involves 11 separate initiatives, most of them filed by Eyman.

On Monday, October 19, Justice Anthony Kennedy stayed the order of the 9th Circuit. The next day, the full Supreme Court entered the case.

"The application presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the court is granted," the court's order said. "The order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit & is hereby stayed."

That means that the original September order by Federal District Court Judge Benjamin Settle, which sealed the petitions, will remain in effect.

The Supreme Court also called for "the timely filing and disposition" of an appeal by Protect Marriage Washington of the 9th Circuit's decision.

"The Supreme Court is simply preserving the status quo while opponents of disclosure get their full day in court, and we respect that," Reed said. "We continue to support the view of the 9th Circuit and will do our very best to uphold the voters' desire for transparent and accountable government."

David Ammons, a spokesperson for Reed, said if the court decides not to hear the appeal the ban will "terminate automatically" and the lower court ruling releasing the signatures will stand.

Reed and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna had argued that the names of petition-signers are public information, and may be disclosed under the state's Public Records Act.

Protect Marriage Washington - the coalition of conservative politicians and church leaders who brought Referendum 71 to the ballot - argued that publishing the names would inhibit the First Amendment rights of signers, since they might be subjected to intimidation by opponents. Gay blogger Brian Murphy had announced plans to post the names on his site whosigned.org.

About 138,000 names and home addresses are at issue.

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