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October 18, 2011

Judge orders disclosure of petition signers' names in Doe v. Reed remand

On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal District Judge Benjamin Settle of the Western District of Washington ruled yesterday that the individuals who signed petitions to bring an effort to repeal the state's domestic partners law were not entitled to an exemption from the name disclosure mandated by the state's Public Records Act. Judge Settle granted summary judgment to the Secretary of State based on his finding that Protect Marriage Washington had provided no compelling evidence of threats or harassment against petition signers: 

[If Protect Marriage could get around the Public Records Act] by simply providing a few isolated incidents of profane or indecent statements, gestures, or other examples of uncomfortable conversations, ... disclosure would become the exception instead of the rule.

Judge Settle distinguished the case from earlier decisions granting protections to civil rights organizations that challenged laws requiring disclosure of membership lists:

Doe has not supplied competent evidence or adequate authority to support its claims that R-71 signers constitute a fringe organization with unpopular or unorthodox beliefs or one that is seeking to further ideas that have been historically and pervasively rejected and vilified by both this country’s government and its citizens.

The case was on remand from the Supreme Court's decision in Doe v. Reed, 130 S.Ct. 2811 (2010), in which it ruled that the Washington state law requiring name disclosure was not facially unconstitutional as a violation of privacy rights. The Supreme Court sent the case back to District Court for a decision on whether this particular group of petition signers could demonstrate the need for an exemption from the law.

Protect Marriage Washington may appeal the new ruling as well, although numerous individuals were named in Judge Settle's opinion and the full list was made available to the public yesterday after the decision was announced. 

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