October 25, 2012
Doe v. Reed: Moot at Last?
In what should be the final opinion in the extended saga of the quest for anonymity by "Protect Marriage" members and supporters, the Ninth Circuit declared the case moot.Recall that in Doe v. Reed, decided by the United States Supreme Court in June 2010, the Court rejected a facial challenge to the state of Washington's Public Records Act (PRA), RCW 42.56 that governs the disclosure of public records including petitions seeking a ballot initiatives. The ballot initiative at issue sought to repeal the "everything but marriage" law for same-sex couples and was spear-headed by the controversial Protect Marriage organization. The John Doe plaintiffs challenged the public disclosure of their names as a violation of the First Amendment.
Subsequently, on remand from the United States Supreme Court, the district court's opinion ordered disclosure of the names of those who signed an anti-same-sex marriage petition in Washington state in accordance with the state's usual processes. The Ninth Circuit denied the request for an emergency stay last year.
Now, the Ninth Circuit panel unanimously finds the case moot. The panel discussed an exception to the mootness doctrine under a two-prong test: “(1) the challenged action is in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration; and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again.” The panel quickly found that prong one was not satisfied and therefore did not reach the second issue.
Concurring, Judge N.R. Smith disagreed on the mootness question, essentially holding that the matter was not moot because the court could attempt to at least narrow the dissemnination of the information. However, Judge Smith's conclusion on the merits was interwoven with the mootness arguments. He reasoned that Protect Marriage's "arguments regarding the merits of the burden on their First Amendment rights is incongruent with the mootness argument, because it discusses a burden caused by the government action of disclosing identities at all. Plaintiffs cannot have it both ways."
While Protect Marriage may file a petition for writ of certiorari, it seems highly unlikely Doe v. reed will be returning to the Supreme Court again.
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I am not a lawyer but I read what you write because I love the law. Could you explain mootness? Thanks.
Posted by: Carlin Jacoby | Oct 25, 2012 6:29:36 PM
Mootness means the matter is resolved, so that the court does not have a "live" controversy before it. Here's a handy definition: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/moot.
Confusingly, "moot" can also mean "open to debate" as in "moot court," a law student exercise, or even the use of "moot" as in practice before an actual event ("moot oral arguments" or "moot interviews.")
Posted by: RR | Oct 31, 2012 7:41:40 AM