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Bigots anonymous

According to Mother Jones, the Supreme Court is about to lay the groundwork for handing corporate America yet another weapon in its continuing campaign to complete its hostile takeover of America, once again in the name of free speech.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Doe v. Reed, a case from Washington state that looks at whether the public disclosure of referendum petitions violates signers’ First Amendment rights to privacy, free association, and free speech. While important on its own, Reed is also a warm-up for cases coming down the pipeline in California and Maine over whether disclosing the names of campaign donors violates free speech rights by exposing contributors to harassment and other unpleasantness. Together, these cases form a backdoor assault on one of the most accepted tenets of clean elections: that the public should be able to see where the money is coming from.

The plaintiff’s are people who signed petitions trying to restrict gay marriage. They don’t want people to know that they’re bigots.

It’s my understanding that the names of the people who sign petitions have to be checked to make sure they are legally entitled to sign it. There is a legitimate state interest in getting the names. I have to believe that even today’s Supreme Court would agree that a state has a legitimate interest in insuring that referenda are only held when real people actually want them. The issue, I assume, is whether the names should be subject to FOIA type laws.

As a matter of course the names of the people who vote are subject to such disclosure, but of course, it’s technically impossible to tell how they voted, at least we all hope it is, so in theory that would prevent harassment. Only that’s not really true, because if you are of a certain race, and live in certain parts of the country, you run the risk of being harassed merely for voting. It’s hard to see how the logic of a decision in favor of the bigots that took this issue to court would not also bar disclosure of voting records.

This is not akin to the civil rights era association cases (mentioned in the full article) because the members of the NAACP were not attempting to avail themselves of a state remedy; they were purely and simply trying to associate with one another. People who sign such petitions are injecting themselves into the legislative process. The right to free speech does not imply the right to anonymous speech in all cases. For years courts have upheld statutes requiring campaign materials to identify the source of those materials. Lobbyists must register and declare the names of their clients; should those clients be allowed to remain anonymous because the fear being held accountable for the positions they are taking?

But before we get too overwrought about this, we should recall that corporations, and indeed extremely rich individuals, can already anonymously influence both the public discourse and individual elections. All they have to do is create a front group, such as the recently founded Stop too Big to Fail, a “grassroots” group founded and funded by corporate lobbyists, the objective of which is, of course, to Preserve too Big to Fail. (Like housing developments, these groups are usually name after what they destroy, e.g. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth).

The present corporate friendly Supreme Court has adopted what some deluded ACLU types (and I’m a card carrying member, but not deluded) see as a strict construction of the First Amendment, but it’s really a philosophy that holds that the guy with the biggest megaphone has a constitutional right to drown out everyone else.

As an aside, isn’t it interesting that the right wing types who don’t believe a woman has a privacy right in her own body (and this includes at least five justices) have no trouble discerning a right to privacy for people who voluntarily choose to sign a petition.

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