U.S. Supreme Court rejects secrecy on ballot petitions, paving way for Eastern Panhandle case

June 25, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

We’ve reported before on the important Freedom of Information Act case in which The Shepherdstown Observer is trying to get copies of the petitions filed to get a zoning matter on the ballot in Jefferson County.

See previous posts here, here and here.

And now, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 that people who sign petitions to put referendums on state ballots do not have a general right under the First Amendment to keep their names secret. According to The New York Times:

The near-unanimity of the decision masked a deep division on a more focused question that the justices left for another day: Are there good reasons to protect the identities of people who signed petitions concerning a measure opposing gay rights and say they fear harassment and retaliation should their names be posted on the Internet?

The Court’s opinion is available here, and there’s much more about the case available from The Scotus Wiki here, including this analysis:

By a broad eight-to-one majority in an opinion by the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court today held in Doe v. Reed that signatories of referendum petitions generally do not have a constitutional right – i.e., a right that would trump state open government laws – to keep their identities private. But the Court held – again, by the same broad majority – that courts should consider in any given case whether a particular referendum presents sufficiently unique circumstances that anonymity is required. It therefore permitted the claim to anonymity in this case, which involves a referendum on gay rights, to proceed in the lower courts. But their chances of prevailing appear very slim, as five members of the Court either expressed significant doubts about their claim or expressly rejected it.

The Martinsburg Journal had a story on the Supreme Court ruling’s possible impact on the West Virginia case, and here’s a right-up from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Oral arguments in the West Virginia case are set for Sept. 8.

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