Rob McKenna (R)
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold his state's practice of releasing voter-signed petitions.
In arguing his third case before the nation's highest court, the Republican attorney general was defending the constitutionality of Washington's longstanding voter-approved public records law.
Passed in 1972 as Initiative 276, the Washington Public Records Act allows the secretary of state to release copies of petition pages used in the referendum and ballot measure process.
"Access to government information, including referendum petitions, allows Washingtonians to trust - but verify - their government's work," McKenna said in a statement. "The public's right to government records is an overriding state interest and shouldn't be pushed aside because of one controversial ballot campaign."
The Washington Public Records Act is being challenged by Protect Marriage Washington, which gathered signatures to overturn a statute lawmakers passed last year that expanded rights of same-sex partners and some cohabitants.
The group is seeking to protect the more than 138,000 names and addresses on petitions the group gathered 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 Referendum 71 petitions. Washington Families Standing, which opposed placing Ref. 71 on the ballot, sought the identities of the petition's supporters.
There is no provision in the public records law that bars the secretary of state from releasing the names of initiative and referendum supporters.
The case was 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.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the petitions could be released, prompting Protect Marriage Washington to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.