Seattle City Attorney intervenes in R71 lawsuit
 

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posted Friday, April 9, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 15

Seattle City Attorney intervenes in R71 lawsuit
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the names and addresses of voters who signed Referendum 71 should be public information.

Holmes filed his brief on April 5. He joins the Washington Secretary of State and Washington Families Standing Together - the campaign that worked to approve R71 - in asking the court to release the names.

About 138,000 names and home addresses are at issue. Arguments on the case will begin April 28.

Referendum 71 asked Washington state voters if they wished to approve the expanded domestic partnership rights passed by the legislature last year, which they ultimately did.

A group called WhoSigned.org filed a request for copies of the petitions, so they could post signers' personal information on their website.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed argued that the state's Public Records Act required them to turn over the information.

The coalition of right-wingers and Christian fundamentalists who sponsored the challenge to domestic partnership rights went to court to prevent them.

In October last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of publishing the names, but Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stayed their decision, and the full Supreme Court announced on January 15 that it would hear the case.

Amicus briefs allow parties who are interested in a case but are not directly involved to state an opinion about the legal questions at issue.

"I support full marriage equality, but, from Seattle's perspective, this Supreme Court case is primarily about governmental transparency," Holmes wrote in a statement issued April 5. "The Public Records Act applies to ballot measure petitions regardless of the political leanings or convictions of a particular measure's supporters or of the individuals who signs its petitions."

In his brief, Holmes argues that since the City of Seattle makes use of the initiative and referendum process, "a decision by this Court in favor of [Protect Marriage Washington] would also significantly impact the ability of the City of Seattle and Washington's other local governments to keep both their representative and direct democracy legislative processes transparent."

Holmes goes on to say that the state Public Records Act sets reasonable standards regulating the initiative and referendum process, and exempting petition signatures from the Act's disclosure requirements would limit the public's right to monitor the process.

Holmes also claims that allowing petition signers to remain anonymous might invite future litigation in which people claim rights to anonymity for other kinds of signed communication.



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