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High court continues ban on releasing R-71 petitions

by David Ammons | October 20th, 2009

r71latestThe U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to continue blocking, at least temporarily, Washington State from releasing Referendum 71 petitions under the state’s Public Records Act.

The high court, ruling in a request by Justice Anthony Kennedy, agreed to keep in place Kennedy’s order that bans release of the documents while appeals are being sought. The court thus suspends the ruling last Thursday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the R-71 documents are releasable.  That means that, at least for now, the restraining order imposed on the Secretary of State last month by U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle will remain in place while appeals are pursued.

The high court order said if it decides not to hear the appeal from Project Marriage Washington, the ban will “terminate automatically” and the 9th Circuit ruling will stand, meaning the petitions could be released then. If the Supreme Court takes the case, then the stay will remain in effect until the justices render a decisi0n.

Secretary Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna support release of initiative and referendum petitions under terms of the Public Records Act that state voters approved overwhelmingly in 1972.  Reed describes the petitions as the voter’s way to take part in a public process of citizen legislating, and not like the private act of casting a ballot.

“The Supreme Court is simply preserving the status quo while opponents of disclosure get their full day in court, and we respect that, ” Reed said. “We continue to support the view of the 9th Circuit and will do our very best to uphold the voters’ desire for transparent and accountable government.”

R-71 let voters say whether they want to approve or reject Senate Bill 5688, the recently adopted expansion of rights and responsibilities for state-registered domestic partners.  Currently, about 12,000 people are registered, both same-sex couples and opposite-gender couples where one or both partners is 62 or older.

The election is underway.  Many voters now have their ballots in hand and may begin voting right away if they wish. 

4:15 PM UPDATE; Later Tuesday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks continued his blanket prohibition of the state releasing any petitions while state and federal litigation is continuing. He said he wants to see the actual opinion from the 9th Circuit and is awaiting word on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will accept review of the case.

Hicks is hearing initiative activist Tim Eyman’s broad lawsuit against disclosing petitions. Initially, Eyman’s case involved 11 initiatives, mostly his own, that had been requested, but on Tuesday, his attorney also broadened the case by adding two Jane Does who had signed R-71 petitions and don’t want their names released. No date has been set for the hearing to begin.

State attorneys said it could be weeks or months before the 9th Circuit’s opinion comes down and if the high court accepts review, that could stretch well into 2010.

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