People who take a “Rah, rah, our team won!” approach to Supreme Court decisions may overlook some important things about Thursday’s ruling about public disclosure and Referendum 71.
Attorney General Rob McKenna, who defended Washington’s Public Records Act, won a battle he shouldn’t have had to fight.
The people who collected signatures to put R-71 on the November ballot had asked U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle to prevent the state’s release of their petitions. Settle granted the injunction on astonishingly broad grounds, holding that they were likely to succeed in arguing that the First Amendment could require that any petition – not just theirs – be sealed upon request.
That conclusion seemed absurd, but the high court took the claim seriously enough to review it. McKenna wound up having to play defense in a game with very high stakes.
Thursday’s ruling was a matter of dodging an asteroid few people had seen coming. As far as R-71 – by itself – is concerned, the fight remains to be fought in a trial court. It will turn on whether the petitioners can produce believable evidence that they were genuinely threatened by gay-rights supporters.
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