The Supreme Court released their decision on http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-559.pdf and found that releasing the names of the people that sign ballot initiative petitions does not violate their First Amendment Rights. The case: The state of Washington passed a law (Senate Bill 5688) expanding the rights and responsibilities of state-registered domestic partners, including same-sex domestic partners. In response, a group called Protect Marriage Washington started a petition drive to put a bill on the ballot to repeal SB 5688. The group obtained enough signatures to get the initiative put on the ballot, which prompted several groups, including Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) and Washington Families StandingTogether (WFST). Two entities, WhoSigned.org and Know-ThyNeighbor.org, issued a joint press release stating their intention to post the names of the petition signers online, in a searchable format - the purpose being to allow the public to engage signers in a debate on the merits of the underlying law (i.e. - engage in the same harrassment tactics that occurred in California in response to Proposition 8). The petition sponsor and several (anonymous) signers sought to prevent the public release of the petitions for obvious reasons. The first problem with this case is that the petition sponsors included 2 counts in their motion. The first was that the Public Release Act requiring release of the signatures was unconstitutional when applied to referendum petitions. The second was that release “is unconstitutional as applied to the Referendum 71 petition because there is a reasonable probability that the signatories . . . will be subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals.” This gave the petition sponsors two bites at the apple, since if they lost on the general Count I, they still had a chance to prevent release on their particular petition in Count II. The lower court agreed with Count I, making it unnecessary to rule on Count II. Groups desiring release appealed the decision, with it winding up in the USSC. Even Alito acknowledges that the signors should be able to gain exemption from the PRA for their specific petition, given that groups requesting the signatures make no secret of what they intend to do with them once they obtain them (Alito concurrence, page 21). Unfortunately, the only decision to appeal or the USSC to decide is the more general Count I. But, the case does raise some questions about First Amendment rights, the rights of petition signors, and the use of secret ballots in elections. As Scalia noted (page 6 of his concurrence), there is no right to a secret ballot in elections, nor is there a right to secrecy in signing referendum petitions. Best of all are Scalia's closing comments: While the decision rejects the idea that the Public Records Act is unconstitional in its requirement that petition signatures be released to the public, it does note that there is no constitutional requirement to release the names, either, meaning the proper remedy is to amend the PRA to exempt petition signatures from public release. I have to admit the logic used to reach the decision was correct and I agree with the decision, but the case raises huge issues of how the internet impacts democracy. It's unconscionable that a group can obtain your signature, find your address (and maybe even your phone number) through a google search, and then print up a map so the person (or a carload of persons) desiring to engage you "in a debate on the merits of the underlying law" can drive right up to your house, ring your doorbell at 2 AM, and engage you in a debate over why you signed such a stupid petition (In other words, Washington's Public Release Act needs serious attention regardless of the USSC decision). As noble and brave as Scalia's comments sound, I just find them to be totally out of touch with the world we live in today with the technological tools available to be readily used for harrassment of political opponents.