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R-71 petitions on hold: Justice Kennedy halts release

by David Ammons | October 19th, 2009

petitions1Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court has at least temporarily blocked release of petitions in support of putting Referendum 71 on the statewide ballot.

Kennedy, in a one-page order, agreed with the request of Protect Marriage Washington to “stay” or freeze, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last Thursday that had cleared the way for releasing the petitions under terms of the state’s broad public disclosure law.  In so doing, Kennedy let stand the order of U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle, who ruled in Tacoma last month against the scheduled release of the petitions by the Secretary of State.

Kennedy said his order remains in effect until further order of himself or the full high court. His ruling also would appear to dispose of the state’s request of Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks that the state be allowed to release the R-71 petitions to reflect the 9th Circuit’s ruling.

Kennedy’s ruling preserves the status quo — nondisclosure — while he reviews the matter and gives disclosure foes a chance to pursue their appeal.

Secretary Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna have supported release of initiative and referendum petitions under terms of the Public Records Act that state voters approved overwhelmingly in 1972.  Petitions are the public’s way to take part in a public process of citizen legislating, and are not akin to the private act of voting, they say.

“We continue to applaud the clear opinion of the 9th Circuit and will do our best to uphold the voters’ desire for transparent and accountable government,” Reed said.  “We believe that it is sound policy to fight for our public disclosure “sunshine” laws.”

R-71 asks voters whether they want to approve or reject Senate Bill 5688, the recently adopted expansion of the state’s domestic partnership rights for registered partners.  Some backers of the new law have sought to publicize the names of people to signed the petitions. Foes of the new law have said release could lead to harassment or injury to signers.

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

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