Few issues seem to transcend party politics these days, but efforts to protect open government and public records laws are solidly uniting interests across the political spectrum. Case in point is Doe v. Reed, a case stemming from the failed efforts of anti-gay religious conservatives in Washington to repeal a comprehensive domestic partnership law via Referendum 71.
What the Doe plaintiffs are asking for is a serious departure from open government. They will be arguing before the US Supreme Court on Wednesday that referendum petition signers have a First Amendment right to anonymously step into a legislator’s shoes and trigger legislative action. Signing a referendum petition is a legislative act because it demands that a duly-enacted law be put on hold and directs the Secretary of State to call an election. The Doe plaintiffs want the identity of citizen legislators to be immune from public disclosure.
The plaintiffs imply that they are the only stakeholder in the referendum process whose rights deserve consideration. In reality, there are two other stakeholders whose rights must be considered: voters whose rights may be taken away by the referendum; and voters concerned that government remains open, fair and accountable to the people.
Voters concerned with open government represent the entire conservative-progressive spectrum, as evidenced by the respondents in the Doe case. Defending Washington’s republican Secretary of State Sam Reed before the US Supreme Court is Attorney General Rob McKenna, a republican who ran on an open government platform in past elections and who chose to argue this case personally before the Court.
Joining the case as respondent intervenors are Washington Families Standing Together (WAFST) and Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG). WAFST is the statewide coalition that led the campaign to retain Washington’s domestic partnership law, which voters approved by 53.2 %, making Washington the first state to affirm an LGBT relationship recognition law at the polls.
WAFST intervened in the lower court in order to protect their and the public’s right to ensure that only legal signatures from the Referendum 71 petitions were counted. WAFST is concerned that election processes be transparent, fair and free from fraud for all ballot measure and candidate elections. Public disclosure and election regulations help ensure that the public can know who is promoting a measure with their signatures or their money.
Joining Attorney General McKenna, WAFST and WCOG in the defense of open government via amicus brief are the attorneys general from each of the 23 other states allowing citizen initiatives and referenda. Like Mr. McKenna, the attorneys general representing Colorado, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin are republicans. The other 15 attorneys general are democrats. In addition, non-partisan organizations whose members are state, county and municipal governments and officials have filed a brief in support of open government.
Running the gamut from liberal to conservative to impartial, dozens of publishing, news and information organizations have submitted amicus briefs in support of open government, including National and Washington State News Publishers, News Broadcasters and News Media Professional Associations (Advance Publications, The American Society of News Editors, P.L.C., Belo, Bloomberg, CNN, Cox Media Group, Dow Jones, Hearst, Magazine Publishers of America, Newsweek, New York Times Co., ProPublica, Tribune Co., The Washington Post Co.). Two other briefs (here and here) represent the open government interests of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Gannett, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, The Radio-Television Digital News Association, Society Of Professional Journalists, American Business Media, Consumer Data Industry Association, First American Corelogic, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, Reed Elsevier, the Software & Information Industry Association, Transunion and Thomson Reuters.
Not all conservatives are alike, and clearly open government is where most will part company with the radical-right type of social conservatives behind Doe v. Reed. Open government is fundamental to a healthy democracy. It should be no surprise that this issue is one which transcends politics and partisanship.
Cross-posted at Washblog.