U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Attempt by Antigay Group to Impose Secrecy on Petition Process; Lambda Legal Applauds Decision
(Washington, D.C., June 24, 2010) — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected 8-1 a claim in Doe v. Reed by backers of Washington State's Referendum 71 that releasing the names of people who sign petitions to get an initiative on the ballot exposes them to harassment and intimidation and thus violates their First Amendment right to free speech. (Read the decision here.)
The Justices left to the lower court the narrower question of whether such restrictions were necessary in the individual case of Referendum 71, a measure that would have kept Washington's comprehensive domestic partnership law from taking effect.
Three of the nation's leading LGBT legal organizations, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)—together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. The brief refutes the false claims presented to the Supreme Court in this and other cases that individuals who support anti-gay initiatives have been subjected to "systematic intimidation" by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
"Today, the Supreme Court held that disclosure of referendum signature petitions serves strong government interests in 'ferret[ing] out invalid signatures' and rooting out the kind of fraud that can occur in the initiative process. Because we were able to inspect signatures, Lambda Legal successfully challenged efforts to repeal Montgomery County, Maryland's gender identity non-discrimination ordinance," said Jon Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal. "We're also pleased the Justices refused to accept on their face the outlandish claims of antigay groups that disclosure of the Referendum 71 petitions would subject signers to harassment. Good government prevailed today."
"The antigay groups failed to present even one instance of any signer of a referendum or initiative in any state ever having faced harassment. We are confident they will not be able to meet the high test imposed by the Court that requires disclosure unless those seeking secrecy establish a 'reasonable probability' that disclosure of the petitions will subject signers 'to threats, harassment or reprisals from either government officials or private parties,'" Davidson continued.
"We all have a right to participate in the political process, but aside from the act of voting, it's vital that the process remain public. Sometimes that means people will disagree with you—that's life. The antigay backers of Referendum 71 are trying to make a few hostile whispers or glares sound like an ongoing campaign of intimidation by the LGBT community. We know who the real victims are here, however—the members of our community who are subjected on a daily basis to bullying, discrimination and even violence," Davidson added.
The brief in Doe v. Reed (Case No. 09-559) was prepared by Luke Platzer and William Hohengarten of Jenner & Block, Jon Davidson and Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal, Gary Buseck and Mary Bonauto of GLAD, and Shannon Minter and Christopher Stoll of NCLR.
Contact: Tom Warnke; 213-382-7600 ex 247;firstname.lastname@example.org
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.