Government is a little more open in Washington than in most states, and the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to help it stay that way.
In a victory for transparency, the court ruled that signing a petition to get an issue on the ballot is a public act, and the public has a right to know who signed it.
It came to this because backers of last year's Referendum 71, which sought to overturn the Legislature's "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law, sued to keep their identities secret.
Protect Marriage Washington, a group opposed to the state's existing domestic partnership law, gathered enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
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Voters went the other way, however, and approved the law granting registered domestic partners the same legal rights as married couples.
As we argued at the time, it makes no sense to think documents collected in public places, usually by individuals hired for the task, are in any sense "secret."
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Protect Marriage Washington cited the potential for political opponents to take vengeance on people who signed the petition.
Thursday's ruling keeps the door open for a lower court to decide if the safety of the petitioners overrides the public's right to know.
Religious conservatives have already announced plans to return to federal court in Tacoma and ask for an exemption to the state's Public Records Act.
It ought to be denied. Existing laws already provide protection against harrassment. It's not necessary to make the workings of government less transparent.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, joined by Secretary of State Sam Reed, fought for open government.
"Citizen legislating is too important to be conducted in secret," McKenna argued.
Most of the justices agreed. Only Justice Clarence Thomas sided with Protect Marriage Washington.
We wholeheartedly agree with the majority.
When voters are asked to decide something, they have a right to know who is asking.
The Supreme Court decision doesn't say so, but it seems to us it should be taken as a rebuke by U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle. He's a Washington resident but apparently no fan of open government.
At "this time the court is not persuaded that full public disclosure of referendum petitions is necessary," Settle said when the case was before him last year.
The higher courts now have agreed he was wrong.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the ruling for the majority.
"Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures," he wrote.
"Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot."