Thursday, April 15, 2010

Salt Lake Tribune: Utahns For Ethical Government Lawyers Sue In Federal Court - UPDATED

Godspeed to the UEG lawyers
UPDATED: Temporary restraning order granted; press conference set for 11:00 a.m.

Interesting development on the citizen's initiative petition front, according to this morning's morning's story in the Salt Lake Tribune:
Suit demands secrecy for ethics petition signers.
In Tuesday's WCF article we assured our readers that Utahns for Ethical Government's (UEG) lawyers were prepared to go to court, although we confess that we had no idea they'd be doing it quite so soon. From this morning's Cathy McKitrick story:

One day shy of the deadline to turn in 95,000 valid voter signatures, attorneys who drafted a pending ethics-reform initiative filed suit in U.S. District Court, challenging the constitutionality of the practice of making petition signatures public.
David Irvine and Alan Smith, two of the key legal minds behind Utahns for Ethical Government, requested a temporary restraining order -- and permanent injunction -- to block the release of signers' names, addresses and, in some cases, their age or birth dates. Current state law allows their release as soon as county clerks have accomplished the task of matching names to registered voters.
"There's a provision in Utah's initiative statute that once you've filed your packets with the county clerk they become a public record," Smith said. "We're challenging the constitutionality of that statute. In effect it chills the First Amendment rights of those who signed the petition."
We'd expected that Utah Republicans who'd signed the petition would experience a certain amount of needling from GOP jack-boots operatives for having deviated from the Party Line. What we hadn't expected was that ethics reform-minded GOP petition signators, in doing so, would be mean-spiritedly accused of having committed the equivalent of an act of political treason:

"We want to protect those who signed our petition from being harassed," Irvine said, noting that some signed just because they thought that people should get to vote on the question.
"The [state] Republican Party has said it will target our folks," Irvine added. "We've had Republicans in Utah County saying 'if you sign you're not fit to run as a Republican.'"
Old-fashioned right wing socialist Brown-shirt Politics, anyone?

Godspeed to the UEG lawyers.

Sign the petition here:
Utahns for Ethical Government
Please be patient, folks. The UEG website has been up and down this morning, (and over the past day or two as well), due to user overload (which is a positive omen for initiative supporters, wethinks). If you get a page load error the first time around, come back later and try again. Today's the last day for the gathering of signatures by the way, so for those who've dawdled... please be persistent... and don't give up until your electronic signature has been lodged.

Update 4/16/10 6:00 a.m.: The Salt Lake Tribune reports that U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups granted the UEG's request for a temporary restraining order to keep petition signers' names secret:
Ethics initiative 'close' to making ballot
We also received an email from UEG representative Kim Burningham about thirty minutes ago informing us that despite intermittent crashes of UEG's website throughout the day, "yesterday also brought great 'highs,'" and "that there is far more news--and even more exciting--that will be clear at the 11 a.m. press conference this morning."

We'll keep our ears open, tune into this morning's press conference and report back with any new developments arising in connection with the UEG petition story.

Gotta admit the suspense is killing us.

Stay tuned, WCF readers.


Curmudgeon said...

I need to think this trough a bit more, but on a first pass, I'm not sure keeping signatures on referendum petitions secret is a good idea. Violates the principle of openness in government, and I doubt that a fear that "some people in my party won't like it that I've signed the petition" is a strong enough reason to keep signatures on a public petition that is part of the legislative process secret. Citizens need to be responsible for their actions no less than legislators.

What this really is, I think, is an attempt to thwart the odius law our ethically-challenged legislators passed and our principle-challenged governor signed allowing people to remove their names from petitions after the closing date for adding signatures. If the petitions get enough signatures, legislators cannot pressure people to remove their signatures in key counties if they don't know who signed.

But the odiousness of the law and the unethical conduct of the majority that passed it and the unprincipled actions of the governor that signed it do not, I think, justify keeping signers names secret on a petition that may put a law on the ballot. When you sign any referendum petition, you agree to stand up and be counted on the matter at issue. Secrecy should not be a part of it, and certainly should not be claimed as a right. Or so it seems to me a this point.

RudiZink said...

Good point, Curm. The individual citizen's right to privacy bumps up against the right of the citizens collectively to know which citizens in particular put the matter on the ballot.

This will most certainly be an interesting case to watch.

Dan S. said...

My first impulse was to say that the signatures ought to be public. Upon further thought, however, I'm not so sure.

I strongly disagree with the AG's reasoning, namely that petition signatures are analogous to votes in the legislature. Legislators' votes must be public because that's the only way the voters who elect them can know how they're being represented. That argument doesn't apply to petition signers, but there's still the general principle that all government records should be public unless there's a compelling reason to keep them private.

So can we come up with a compelling reason?

First, we have this new law that encourages petition opponents to harass the signers during the coming month, pressuring them to remove their signatures.

Second, even without this law, modern technology would allow any sufficiently interested person or group to start compiling a database of exactly who has signed which petitions over the years. You could put together some pretty good profiles of large numbers of voters in this way, and use it for political or commercial purposes.

Of course, voter registration records are already public, and these tell you party affiliation (if any) and how often a person votes.

Besides the potential for actual harassment of petition signers, there's a possibility that making these records public could create a chilling effect, discouraging voters from signing future petitions even for causes that they agree with. If we believe in the initiative process at all, we don't want that to happen.

Whether this reason is "compelling" depends, I suppose, on whether there are good affirmative reasons (beyond the general "default" principle) for releasing the records to the public. Does releasing the records make it more likely that invalid signatures would be identified? Perhaps, but this would be important only if there are a lot of invalid signatures that the government can't already detect. Are there other reasons?

Thank God I Am a Transplant Citizen said...

Herr Hitler at work again through the guise of Republicans in Utah County.

Utah has the biggest bunch of narrow minded Mormon hypocrites that parade as sanctimonious do-gooders that I have ever come across and you can quote me on that!

blackrulon said...

Off Topic but interesting. There is a 3/4 page ad in the April 15th 2010 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune page A9 thanking legislators "for protecting our kids". This concerns raising the tobacco tax $1. Among the representatives thanked are Kevin "Hot Tub" Garn. I'm not certain that Garns legacy will be remembered for his tobacco vote.

Pretzel said...

Any time you take on the power structure in Utah, you need to go to Federal Court. The culture controls almost everything else. Get this on the Federal docket and you will see the Utah culture rats abandon ship.

Danny said...

From the article,

"Todd Weiler, an attorney and former Davis County Republican Party chairman, joined the lawsuit as a defendant Thursday afternoon, filing his own motion to intervene.

""As a citizen, I'm concerned about my right to find out if my name's been put on that petition without my knowledge or consent, because it's happened to me before," Weiler said.

"Weiler also charged that UEG proponents have given out false and misleading information about the 21-page initiative and he believes that few signers read the measure in its entirety.

""I might want to talk to my neighbor about their signature and share my perspective," Weiler said, "because I have read it and I do understand it."


Here's the deal. You sign a petition, you're voting to put it on the ballot. If we respect secret ballot, then those names should be secret.

As far as Weiler worrying about putting somebody's name on the ballot without permission, or wanting to bug his neighbor when he sees he signed it, these seem like phony issues.

All the petition does is give the RIGHT to vote later. And who wants their pushy know-it-all lawyer nieghbor, like Weiler, coming over to yank their chain? Weiler's argument is the best reason I can think of to keep names SECRET! It's bad enough that your neighbors have to live by you, Weiler, than to have you drag your arrogant butt over to tell them how to vote.

Personally, I sign all initiative and referendum petitions. I figure if it matters enough to somebody to circulate one, I'll give them the chance to have it voted on.

I'd like to see more of them. And I'd really like to see more recall petitions.

AWM said...

Spot on Danny Boy! Spot on!. I wonder if Weilers neighbor will get a discount rate on that advice or if he'll have to pay the going rate...

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