The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled on Doe v. Reed, a case involving whether the names of people who sign petitions should be public or private. The court said that the privacy of petition signers is not protected by the First Amendment, and that signatures should be public.
The case came out of Washington, where a conservative group wanted to block the release of the names of people who had signed petitions for Referendum 71. Referendum 71 was an attempt to overturn a law giving domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples.
The sponsors of Referendum 71 argued that the names of people who signed their petitions should be kept private because they risked threats and harassment by gay rights advocates if their names were public. They also argued that the First Amendment entitled people to sign petitions and remain anonymous. The Court disagreed in an 8-1 ruling (Justice Thomas dissented), arguing that the state's interest in verifying signatures as valid and preventing fraud in the petition process justified making signers' names public.
An excerpt from the opinion:
The State’s interest in preserving the integrity of the electoral process suffices to defeat the argument that the [Public Records Act] is unconstitutional with respect to referendum petitions in general. That interest is particularly strong with respect to efforts to root out fraud. But the State’s interest is not limited to combating fraud; it extends to efforts to ferret out invalid signatures caused not by fraud but by simple mistake, such as duplicate signatures or signatures of individuals who are not registered to vote in the State. The State’s interest also extends more generally to promoting transparency and accountability in the electoral process.