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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. Oh, the name calling was not name calling, it was merely social commentary making this point, which is on the minds of many, as an aside to the article's focus: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100111082327AAmlmMa Or, if you prefer a local angle, I give you exhibit A in that analysis of viva la difference: http://fox59.com/2015/03/16/moed-appears-on-house-floor-says-hes-not-resigning/

  2. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  3. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  4. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  5. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

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