Saturday, January 16, 2010

Importuning the Enemy

We think of the First Amendment as the main protection of free speech, assembly and religion.

Then there is the other side. The need for privacy to be able to speak, assemble and practice our religions, without harm.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for the proponents of Proposition 8 in California that somehow got the Supreme Court to bar simulcast of the proceedings in the current trial in a handful of courtrooms, based on their "fear" of harm if their faces were known in addition to their names (they are volunteer witnesses and have been all over the news).

Then there are the more than a hundred thousand people in Washington State that signed a petition opposing same sex marriage that are now opposing a Freedom of Information request for their names. The Supreme Court issued a stay against the release of their names. Again, not much sympathy here.

But. If the fears of retribution are real, do we do an injustice to free speech by exposing them to those that would expose them?

I’ll leave the law stuff to the Court; but, it's kind of funny for the anti-government, states rights crowd to petition the heathen courts to protect them as they've for years argued that the godless courts should stay out of matters that they say are reserved to the states' legislatures and citizen votes - majority rule and all that, unless the majority is opposed to their view I guess.

Curmudgeon, I know this wasn't lawyerly, I'm less and less so as time goes on.


Thomas said...

Maybe I'm missing something here, but: of what value would a petition be if all the signatories were anonymous? Wouldn't that make it a little difficult to verify?

Dave said...

I gather the petition was verified early on. The issue now is who has access to the names, after the fact. The default position for the last few decades is that anything filed with government is available to the public. There are exceptions - personnel matters, ongoing criminal investigations, documents related to government purchases, and so on.

If there is a real possibility of harm to the people that signed the petition, there is an argument that the default public right of access should be limited.

The stated purpose of the request for the names was to list them on the Internet, I gather to "out" them and shame them. Not a high road purpose; but, is being outed/shamed enough harm to keep the information secret? Could a rogue gay see a neighbor's name and attack them?

Juror's identities are sometimes kept secret based on fears of retaliation.

There may be a legitimate issue.

Sonja's Mom said...

If your going to take a stand - then stand up and be counted or stay hidden in the closet or corner or where ever.