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Should You Sign a Petition? Ninth Circuit Reconsiders Doe v. Reed

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 24, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Doe v. Reed didn’t dissuade from signing petitions, will a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision could change your mind?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments in an emergency motion today regarding the release of Referendum 71 signers’ names.

Referendum 71 was a failed attempt to overturn Washington SB 5688, also known as the “Everything but Marriage” law, which afforded domestic partnerships all of the protections of marriage without the title. Washington voters affirmed “Everything but Marriage” in 2009 with 53 percent of voters’ support, making Washington the first state to establish gay equality through popular vote instead of judicial or legislative intervention, reports Newsweek.

Protect Marriage Washington, a driving force behind Referendum 71, gathered 138,500 signatures to send the referendum to voters. Pursuant to Washington's Public Records Act, those signatures -- including the names and addresses of its signers -- can be made available to the public, so SB 5688 supporters planned to post this information on their websites. Protect Marriage sued to enjoin the release of the signers' names.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that disclosing the names on a petition for a public referendum does not violate the signer's freedom of speech and is legal under the First Amendment. But while the Supreme Court ruled that there was no right to sign a petition anonymously, Protect Marriage continued to seek an exemption for Referendum 71 signers.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled last week that the signers' names could be released. The Washington Secretary of State's office began releasing the Referendum 71 signers' names within hours of Judge Settle's ruling, but suspended the release on Friday pending an emergency hearing on the matter before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Protect Marriage claims that the signers, if made public, will be intimidated or harmed.

If your petition-signing plans hinge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision about Referendum 71 signatures in the latest incarnation of Doe v. Reed, keep checking FindLaw's Ninth Circuit blog for updates on petition privacy.

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