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Opening Arguments

The courage of our convictions

As a proponent of vigorous debate among known combatants, I applaud this Supreme Court decision:

People who sign petitions to put referendums on state ballots do not have a general right under the First Amendment to keep their names secret, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in an 8-to-1 decision.

That makes petition signing more like protest marching than voting -- you're putting yourself out there, so own up to it. The court made an important distinction, though. It made only the "easy" call, saying there is no general First Amendment right to anonymity. It sent back to the lower courts the harder question of whether a specific case might warrant protection, if, for example, there is a likelihood of harassment against signers. Interstingly, Justice Scalia was the most skeptical of signers ever deserving anonymity:

"Harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance,” he wrote. “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”

Civic courage. I like that sentiment.