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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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