Statement of Anne Levinson, Chair, Washington Families Standing Together in Response to U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Reed

Statement of Anne Levinson, Chair, Washington Families Standing Together in Response to U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Reed
(note: WAFST led the Approve Referendum 71 campaign & is a respondent in Doe v. Reed)

The Court has made clear today that public disclosure requirements are an important means of making sure measures are not put on the ballot by fraudulent means or mistake.

“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. Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot. In light of the foregoing, we reject plaintiffs’ argument and conclude that public disclosure of referendum petitions in general is substantially related to the important interest of preserving the integrity of the electoral process.”

This 8- 1 ruling by the highest court in the land is a significant defeat for those who have sought to enshrine discrimination into law at the ballot box. Nowhere is the integrity and transparency of elections more important than where the ballot box is being used in an attempt to take away fundamental rights. Nowhere is it more important for the public to know that attempts to affect the lives of their fellow citizens by promoting ballot measures are free from fraud and error. Perhaps no other group has witnessed its rights put up for public vote more than LGBT Americans. Social conservatives have used ballot measures in state after state, over more than 30 years, to keep LGBT Americans from being able to adopt children, to marry and even to be protected from discrimination in housing and employment.

This is the third loss for these groups in our state over the past year as they tried to repeal legislation ensuring that all families are treated equally under Washington State law. First the State PDC said no when these same groups tried to hide their donors. Then voters approved Referendum 71, retaining the law, by more than 53%. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the proponents’ attempt to undermine disclosure laws.

With regard to the assertion by the anti-gay groups that they would be harmed if petition signatures were subject to public disclosure, as Justice Stevens said in his concurring opinion,

“Any burden on speech that petitioners posit is speculative as well as indirect. For an as-applied challenge to a law such as the PRA to succeed, there would have to be a significant threat of harassment directed at those who sign the petition that cannot be mitigated by law enforcement measures.”

The Supreme Court has in the past allowed narrow exemptions to public disclosure where there’s a clear minority party that has suffered both official and societal retaliation by the majority and where there is strong evidence that such disclosure presents a serious threat. With regard to Referendum 71, however, the groups making this claim were not the minority, but to the contrary, were the ones trying to diminish the rights of the minority. They will be hard pressed to convince a judge the record here is otherwise.

In an amicus brief provided to the Supreme Court in Doe v. Reed, a group of political scientists reported that not only was the assertion of alleged harassment unsubstantiated in Washington State, but the plaintiffs did not present a single verified threat to any signer of a ballot measure petition in any state in any election. As their brief said, “More than a million names of signers of petitions for referenda and initiatives opposing gay marriage have been posted on the Internet, yet there is no evidence that any of these signers has faced any threat of retaliation or harassment by reason of that disclosure.”

WAFST applauds today’s decision and thanks all those who filed briefs and supported our collective efforts as we fought over the last year to protect the rights of all Washingtonians.