Washington AG to argue initiative case before U.S. Supreme Court

By Chris Rizo | Apr 19, 2010

Rob McKenna (R)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday he is ready to appear before U.S. Supreme Court later this month in the third case he will argue before the nation's highest court.

The Republican attorney general will appear before the Supreme Court to defend the constitutionality of Washington's longstanding voter-approved public records law, outlined in Initiative 276.

The open-government measure, approved handily in 1972, has no provision barring the secretary of state from releasing the names of initiative and referendum supporters.

The two-term attorney general has a 3-0 record before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Washington Public Records Act is being challenged by Protect Marriage Washington, which gathered signatures to overturn a law passed by state legislators last year that expanded the rights of same-sex partners.

Protect Marriage Washington filed its lawsuit to protect the more than 138,000 names and addresses on petitions to get Referendum 71 on the November 2009 ballot.

The group sued Secretary of State Sam Reed to prevent the Republican from complying with a public records request for copies of all the Ref. 71 petitions. Washington Families Standing, which opposed placing Ref. 71 on the ballot, sought the identities of the petition's supporters.

The case could have "broad implications" nationally for electoral transparency, McKenna said, noting that of the 24 states that have both an initiative and a referendum process, 23 release information about the petitioners under their public records laws.

"We look forward to the opportunity to defend transparency in the elections process--not just for the people of our state but for people in all states that offer the right to directly participate in lawmaking through the initiative and referendum process," McKenna said.

The case will be heard nearly seven months after U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle for Western District of Washington in September initially blocked the release of the names and addresses of those who signed the petition.

McKenna's office appealed the trial court decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately ruled the petitions could be released.

Protect Marriage Washington then asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to vacate the appeals court's decision pending appeal. Kennedy did so and the justices ultimately accepted the case for review.

The high court will hear the matter April 28. The attorney general is leaving for the District of Columbia on Tuesday for final preparations and to participate in two moot court proceedings to help him prepare for the hearing next week, his office said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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