WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names, and in another case allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of transferring a child molester from Wisconsin to work as a Roman Catholic priest in California.
The 5-to-4 decision in the police case frees the government to arrest and punish people who won't cooperate by revealing their identity.
The decision was a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argued that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong, other than catch the attention of police, to divulge information that may be used for broad database searches.
Police, meanwhile, had argued that identification requests are a routine part of detective work, including efforts to get information about terrorists.
The justices upheld a Nevada cattle rancher's misdemeanor conviction. He was arrested after he told a deputy that he did not have to reveal his name or show an ID during an encounter on a rural road in 2000.
Larry ''Dudley" Hiibel was prosecuted, based on his silence, and fined $250. The Nevada Supreme Court sided with police on a 4-to-3 vote.
Justices agreed in a unique ruling that addresses just what is in a name.
The ruling was a follow-up to a 1968 decision that said police may briefly detain someone on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, without the stronger standard of probable cause, to get more information. Justices said that during such brief detentions, known as Terry stops after the 1968 ruling, people must answer questions about their identities.
Justices had been asked to rule that forcing someone to give police their name violated a person's Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that it violated neither.
''Obtaining a suspect's name in the course of a Terry stop serves important government interests," Kennedy wrote.
The ruling left the door open for what Kennedy said would be an unusual case in which revealing a name would be incriminating. But he said generally, disclosing an identity is ''so insignificant in the scheme of things."
The police encounter with Hiibel happened after someone called police to report arguing between Hiibel and his daughter in a truck. An officer asked him 11 times for his identification or his name.
Over and over again Hiibel refused, at one point saying, ''If you've got something, take me to jail" and ''I don't want to talk. I've done nothing. I've broken no laws."
In the Wisconsin case, the justices declined without comment to block a lawsuit involving allegations that the priest, Sigfried Widera, molested an 8-year-old California boy after his move.
Widera committed suicide in 2003, a year after Eric Paino sued him and the Milwaukee Archdiocese over the alleged 1985 sexual assault.
Before his death, Widera fled the country to avoid trial on dozens of counts of child molestation in Wisconsin and California.
He had been convicted of perversion with a boy in Wisconsin in the 1970s before he moved to California.