In John Doe # 1 v. Reed, 565 U.S. 1048 (2011), Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision not to issue an injunction to prevent disclosure of the names of individuals who had petitioned for an unsuccessful referendum to overturn a law that had provided benefits to gay partners. Although it had rejected a similar facial challenge in John Doe #1 v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186 (2010), it had said that such disclosures could be blocked if parties showed that disclosures could result in “threats, harassment, or reprisals.”
After a federal district court decided to reject an “as applied challenge,” Alito concluded that the prior assurance had proven to be “empty.” Alito noted that a dissenting judge had pointed out that the District Court had ignored evidence that referendum petitioners had been subject to death threats, threats to their families, and other indignities. Given that the referendum had been defeated two years earlier, he further questioned the need for haste is releasing such names.
John Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2017.