Supreme Court to Consider Privacy for Ballot Petition Signers

Case will have implications for interpretation of First Amendment

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Supreme Court hears a case today seeking to determine if the free speech rights of people who sign a ballot petition are violated if those names and addresses are publicly disclosed. In the case of Doe v. Reed, people who signed a ballot petition to end same-sex domestic partnerships argue they will be subject to harassment and retaliation if the state allows their personal information to be disclosed. Today's case is just one of several the Supreme Court is hearing regarding the constitutional scope of free speech and the First Amendment.

We talk with Dahlia Lithwick, senior legal correspondent for Slate, about Doe v. Reed and the how the Roberts court may leave a mark on the rights of free speech and expression as it continues to hear more cases pertaining to the First Amendment.


Dahlia Lithwick

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [5]

I feel terribly much for the gentleman who was "harassed" in a dozen e-mails which called him "bigot" and "nazi" simply because he was advocating a diminution of the civil rights of his fellow citizens. Perhaps Mr Jefferson and Mr. Otis and all the other misters should have signed the Declaration of Independence on a separate sheet and hid that sheet in an empty brandy cask in an obscure Philly tavern to save themselves from possible harassment. After all, they were pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

Henry David Thoreau wouldn't have been too impressed with those who want to hide their public role in a cloak of anonymity, either. For him, a name alone wouldn't be enough. A person need to throw his/her entire influence behind his/her cause. So I'm afraid equating anonymous speech with freedom of speech doesn't make it with me. I applaud those willing to risk a nasty e-mail or two for a cause to which they are deeply committed.

Apr. 28 2010 11:53 AM
Karen from Nyack, NY

I have reviewed this type of petition before and there are often spurious signatures, duplicates where one person obviously filled in names, etc. If the public is not allowed to review petitions, then there is no way to determine that there are the correct number of legitimate signatures.

Apr. 28 2010 11:34 AM

Richard, you're right. We updated the copy. Thanks!

Apr. 28 2010 07:45 AM
Yosef Rapaport from Brooklyn NY

My memory tells me that there is a parallel case on the right of the Communist Party of USA to keep it's memberhip rolls secret. Unlike the major parties who must make all the names party registrants public.

The Supreme Court ruled that in order to shield members from wide spread McCarthyism they have a 1st Amendment right to hide their membership.

It's ironic that now it seems that liberal piety makes some to take a different view

Yosef Rapaport - Hamodia

Apr. 28 2010 06:29 AM
Richard Winger from California

The first sentence above is misleading. The case isn't just about disclosing names. It is about disclosing names and residence addresses. Petition signers must give their residence address, not just a post office box. Many individuals today do not want their physical residence address listed on the internet, especiallly in a searchable database. Commentators who are on the side of Washington state never seem to acknowledge this point.

Apr. 28 2010 06:27 AM

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