The White House raised the signature threshold for its “We the People” petitions from 25,000 to 100,000, thereby making it more difficult for petitions to require an official response from the administration.
The timing of the White House announcement came just hours after a petition to remove Carmen Ortiz from office reached the 25,000 threshold, thereby requiring the Obama administration to respond to the popular request.
US District Attorney Carmen Ortiz has come under fire for prosecuting Internet activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Schwartz, who reportedly committed suicide one month before his trial was set to begin. Schwartz’s father claims his son was “killed by the government”, and Ortiz has been heavily blamed for taking part in the criminal pursuit that prompted the young man to kill himself.
The topic is an uncomfortable one for the White House, and it is unclear whether the administration will respond. In recent months, the Obama administration has come under increased scrutiny for failing to reply to controversial petitions that reached the 25,000-signature threshold in a 30-day period. The White House claims its new threshold applies only to petitions created after its Tuesday night announcement, but its history of lagging responses have caused some to cast their doubts.
While the White House responded to an outrageous petition requesting the construction of a Death Star, it took about two months to respond to a petition supporting Texas’ secession from the US – and it still hasn’t responded to a demand for the controversial Westboro Baptist Church to be legally recognized as a hate group, even though that petition has over 320,000 signatures.
To ease the burden of responding to too many American interests, the Obama administration has decided to raise the signature threshold to 100,000, thereby eliminating all of future petitions that don’t quite make the cut.
“We’re making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve,” Macon Phillips, White House Director of New Media, wrote in a press release announcing the change. In the last two months of 2012, use of the White House petitions more than doubled, with 2.4 million new users joining the system, Phillips said, calling this increase a good 'problem’.
But of the 254 petitions that have been posted on the White House website, many are in the triple digits and are unlikely to even reach the 25,000 mark – let alone the 100,000 threshold. The new requirements will now ensure that fewer issues prompt an official response from the White House.