Open government, the compelling public interest
Washington voters acted to make government operations the people's business. Washington voters endorsed the expansion of domestic-partnership laws. Opponents of both public decisions are in the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday arguing against the will of the people to govern themselves and oversee how government and lawmaking works.
ZEALOUS advocates for overturning Washington's public-records law appear before the nation's highest court Wednesday with the burden of two stinging rebukes in the court of public opinion.
Lawyers for Protect Marriage Washington are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make basic public records secret. The effort to deny public access to referendum and initiative petitions flies in the face of a nearly four-decades-old law passed with 72-percent voter approval.
Washington citizens have an established, articulated commitment to the open, transparent government they helped create.
The same kindred spirits trying to seal off public documents asked voters whether they supported expansion of Washington's domestic-partnership laws for same-sex families. The answer was "yes." Voters endorsed the changes in November 2009.
Opponents of the new laws had circulated petitions seeking enough signatures to refer the Legislature's work to the voters. That right is an alternative form of the legislative process. Making that effort anonymous is no more appropriate than legislators secretly meeting in Olympia.
Referendum and initiative petitions are public documents, and people who sign them want to make, amend or challenge laws. Their participation is open to public scrutiny and review, as is all public business.
Opponents of those open rules — and of domestic partnerships — claim potential exposure to harassment. Such behavior is unlawful and will be punished. Otherwise, the smear is obvious.
Even the attorney arguing the case before the court gets caught up in the word play. "The government is compelling people to identify their political beliefs and then outing them," said attorney James Bopp Jr., in an Associated Press story. Outing them. Cute.
Washington voters value access to public records, open meetings, and the nuts and bolts of how laws are made, enforced and overseen. Opponents have only their overactive imaginations.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.