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Supreme Court to Hear Washington State Referendum Case

The Supreme Court announced this week that they will hear arguments on April 28 on the question of whether the identities of those who have signed ballot measure petitions can be disclosed by the state. The court will decide whether signing a ballot measure petition is protected by the First Amendment as a form of political speech, according to the Seattle Times. The 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled previously that petition signatures can be made available as part of the public record, reported the Associated Press. The Supreme Court’s decision will likely impact the 27 states that currently allow referendums or ballot initiatives. The case, Doe v. Reed, stems from Referendum 71, the 2009 Washington state ballot measure that asked voters to approve the expansion of benefits provided under the state’s domestic partnership law. Approximately 138,000 people signed the petition to place Referendum 71 on the ballot. Despite the Circuit Court ruling, due to the appeals process, identities of the signatories have not been released. According to HeraldNet, Washington state Secretary of State Sam Reed said, “We believe that we can have disclosure and openness, as well as protect our precious First Amendment rights and promote full participation in the initiative process and voting. I am convinced that we can have robust — and civil — discussions as we debate these ballot issues.” The Washington state Senate passed a bill on Monday that would make signatures on ballot measure petitions in the state public record. The Washington state legislature first established domestic partnerships in 2007. Early in 2009, Governor Chris Gregoire signed the so-called “everything but marriage” bill, which granted domestic partners even more benefits that had previously applied only to married couples. These benefits include the right to use sick leave to care for a partner and adoption, child custody and child support rights. In an attempt to overturn the law, opponents of gay rights successfully lobbied to add the referendum on the issue to this year’s election. When Referendum 71 passed, it marked the first time gay rights were upheld by voters in any state election across the country.

Sources:

HeraldNet 2/16/10; Associated Press 2/16/10; Seattle Times 2/16/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 11/5/10

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