Jun 30, 2010
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the case Doe v Reed to keep public the signers of a Washington state petition to put Resolution 71 on the state ballot in 2008:
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.
It's a complicated ruling, with extra opinions from various members of the majority; but only Clarence Thomas bought the argument that people who sign a petition to take away rights from their gay and lesbian neighbors ought to have a right to have their signatures kept private, especially from those gay and lesbian neighbors.
Simply put, we have a right to a secret ballot in this country, but not a right to secret government. Our governmental representatives do not have the right to make laws in secret (the Senatorial Secret Hold aside), and neither do citizens.
If a citizens' group wants to circulate a petition to outlaw mosques in your town, to deny gay and lesbian couples marital rights in your state, or any other action to discriminate against a minority in this country, that group cannot expect the protection of anonymity.
For that, there are plenty of Comment buttons other people's internet sites.