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Appeals court releases its opinion on release of petition signers

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  1. Freedom of Information
On the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that temporarily blocked the release of the names of people who petitioned…

On the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that temporarily blocked the release of the names of people who petitioned to repeal a same-sex marriage law in Washington state, the appeals court has released its rationale for its earlier order to disclose the names.

The Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled on October 15 that petition signing cannot be protected as a form of anonymous speech since there is no promise of confidentiality and Washington law specifically provides that both proponents and opponents of a referendum petition have the right to observe the state’s signature verification and canvassing process.

The subsequent Oct. 22 opinion stated that that because referendum petition signers take action that has direct legislative effect, “the interest in knowing who has taken such action is undoubtedly greater than knowing generally what groups are in favor of or opposed to a ballot issue.” Courts have ruled that general positions on ballot issues can be kept private.

The Supreme Court on Oct. 20 agreed to stay the appeals court order releasing the names until it decides whether to hear the appeal. If the high court takes the case, it would likely not rule until next year, which means the names would not be released — if at all — before Election Day on Nov. 3.