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Originally published Friday, April 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

U.S. Supreme Court should side with 'civic courage' in Doe v. Reed case

People who sign petitions should have the courage to do so openly. This notion was made clear by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the Doe v. Reed hearing last week.

Times editorial page editor

Justice Antonin Scalia put words to my beliefs about citizens being lawmakers. If somebody is going to sign a petition they should have the courage of their convictions not to do so in secret.

During last week's U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Doe v. Reed, Scalia said, " ... running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage. And the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights to legislate, or to take part in the legislative process."

Scalia is absolutely correct. I hope the skeptical questions directed at James Bopp Jr., who argued the case for Protect Marriage Washington, are an indication that the court will side with disclosure and rule the names of people who signed Referendum 71 are part of the public record.

The court battle over disclosing the names of referendum and initiative signers began last year when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5688, which was dubbed the "everything but marriage" bill. The bill granted same-sex domestic partners and all couples 62 years old and up nearly all the rights the state provides married couples.

Protect Marriage Washington gathered enough signatures to bring the bill before voters as a referendum. The bill was upheld in the November election.

The campaign was tough and anxieties heightened because of the intense partisanship that defines current politics. The political atmosphere is so bad that now is the perfect time for proponents of secrecy to make gains. This urge to hide behind a political blind must be resisted.

The success of an open initiative process also falls to opponents of any given initiative or referendum. They have to control themselves. There is nothing wrong with strenuously opposing a referendum, but it is wrong to use threats or violence.

If harassment becomes the norm, which it was not in the R-71 campaign, then the courts might take a different view. Trying to determine how the Supreme Court will rule from the justice's comments can be foolish, but what I read from last week's hearing was encouraging.

Scalia's position seemed clear. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about Protect Marriage Washington selling the list and using it for fundraising. Bopp said that is different from making the names public because by signing the petition a person is associating themselves with Protect Marriage Washington.

That is not true. Ascribing political beliefs to a referendum is tenuous. There are many reasons people sign petitions. Some people disagree with what is being pushed but believe that the issue is important enough to be decided by voters.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who argued the state's case, made a salient point in response to Scalia, who said the public might not trust the secretary of state because of a stand the office might have made on a referendum.

"That goes to the heart to the Public Records Act, Justice Scalia: trust but verify. The people did not leave to the state the idea that, well, we will let you know what you need to know."

Given the daily nastiness of politics, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a referendum or initiative signer could be targeted for harassment or even violence. That is the precise reason government and lawmaking must remain transparent. If not, lawmakers, voters and the courts surrender to fear and ideology. Our country is lost if that happens.

Ryan Blethen's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: rblethen@seattletimes.com

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