I’m guessing Washingtonians (and citizens of other states, for that matter) will never again be able to learn the identities of people who sign initiative and referendum petitions. Across the board. Liberal and conservative petitions. Anywhere, U.S.A.
Washington’s fairly recent practice of releasing petition information has been driven by the Attorney General’s Office’s view that it’s a matter of open government and open public records law. Our editorial board agrees with that view.
But those are state laws. State laws get trumped, trounced and trampled when the U.S. Supreme Court decides they conflict with the Constitution. The court’s decision Friday to snatch the R-71 case from the hands of the 9th U.S. Circuit strongly suggests that it smells a First Amendment issue here – specifically the right to anonymous political speech. There’s no other reason it would take up the case.
Over the years, the high court has shown much more interest in expanding the reach of the First Amendment than in championing open government. If this case is framed in terms of open government, the petitions are public. If it’s framed in terms of the Bill of Rights, the petitions are sealed. Right now, I’d put my money on the latter.