Opening brief filed in petition privacy case

Protect Marriage Washington, represented by campaign finance superlawyer Jim Bopp, filed its brief in Doe v. Reed yesterday. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petition privacy case April 28.

In Sept. 2009, a federal court prevented the release of the names of 138,500-some individuals who signed a petition for a ballot initiative to overturn a domestic-partnership law passed by the state legislature. Protect Marriage, which organized the petition effort, sued. Bopp argues that the experience of Washington activists and opponents of gay marriage in California’s Proposition 8 campaign shows a record of harassment and intimidation targeted at people who are forced to register their personal information publicly with the state in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.

“Public disclosure laws have been used to harass and intimidate voters,” Bopp said in a press release. “The First Amendment protects citizens engaged in political speech from being forced to reveal their identity to ensure that intimidation does not makes its way into the campaign toolbox. No one should have to endure death threats in order to stand up for what they believe in.”

California, unlike Washington, does not release petitions as public records. The dispute in this case is whether signing a petition is a public, legislative act or an exercise of free speech rights deserving of privacy.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order allowing the release of the petitions Oct. 15, 2009, but the Supreme Court issued an emergency order staying the release five days later.

The Court will decide “[w]hether the First Amendment right to privacy in political speech, association, and belief requires strict scrutiny when a state compels public release of identifying information about petition signers.” Another procedural issue: “Whether compelled public disclosure of identifying information about petition signers is narrowly tailored to a compelling interest, and whether Petitioners met all the elements required for a preliminary injunction.”

SCOTUSWiki’s page on the case is here.