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Indiana lawyer loses SCOTUS case

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A Terre Haute attorney has lost a free speech case before the Supreme Court of the United States, striking a blow to what he calls an ongoing campaign to eliminate campaign finance reform.

In a 67-page opinion released today, the nation’s highest court ruled that the names and addresses of ballot petition-signers can be made public, and that a Washington state statute on public record accessibility is constitutional. The case is Doe v. Reed, No. 09-559, and generated opinions from seven of the nine justices.

The 8-1 decision brought a sole dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas, who contended that he saw this state law as infringing on free speech. But the rest of the justices disagreed with that. A majority found that disclosing the identities of ballot measure petition-signers does not generally violate the First Amendment, though it doesn’t “foreclose success” on any lower court arguments if the sponsors want to pursue a state law exemption.

This ruling comes after almost a year of legal wrangling over Referendum 71, which came out of the 2009 Washington state law granting gay and lesbian couples registered as domestic partners the same rights as married people. Some religious and social conservatives tried to repeal the law through Ref. 71, but 53 percent of the state’s voters opted to keep it. Petitions for that referendum raised this issue, and pitted the two sides against each other about whether names of those petition-signers should be publicly disclosed.

Terre Haute attorney James Bopp Jr. represented the petition-signers, arguing that the names and addresses should be kept secret because signing a ballot petition is a private political act that warrants First Amendment protection. U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle barred the state from releasing the 138,000 names because that disclosure could endanger their rights to anonymous political speech, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote that the broad challenge to the state law must be rejected.

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” he wrote. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”

The chief justice also noted the civic benefits of such disclosure, writing that it “helps prevent difficult-to-detect fraud such as outright forgery and ‘bait and switch’ fraud, in which an individual signs the petition based on a misrepresentation of the underlying issue.’”

Justices Samuel Alito, Sonya Sotomayor, Steven Breyer, John Paul Stevens, and Antonin Scalia all wrote concurring opinions of their own that delved into the issue even more.

Justice Thomas was the sole dissenter, writing that he would have upheld the District judge’s ruling because he believes this type of speech is protected by the First Amendment and disclosure could have a detrimental impact on people’s interaction in the political process.

“In my view, compelled disclosure of signed referendum and initiative petitions under the Washington Public Records Act… severely burdens those rights and chills citizen participation in the referendum process,” he wrote. “Given those burdens, I would hold that Washington’s decision to subject all referendum petitions to public disclosure is unconstitutional because there will always be a less restrictive means by which Washington can vindicate its stated interest in preserving the integrity of its referendum process.”

 

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  1. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

  2. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  3. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  4. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  5. Different rules for different folks....

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