I’ve been blogging a lot lately about restrictions on pseudonym lawsuits, and readers will come together, which I don’t think should generally be allowed.But “generally” is not “always” (more on here), and I don’t think that should always be the case either. (I explained it in my post DOE v. Warlock Why I think what I wrote about the base case there is correct anonymization, but that has to do with the specific characteristics of that case. )
Of course, we’ve heard a lot of pseudonymous cases: Roe v Wade, DOE v. Reed, Santa Fe Independent School District V. Department of Energy, Plyer v Doe, and more. None of these Supreme Court opinions discuss pseudonyms in detail, but they are clearly open to it. In other cases, legal rules often strongly oppose pseudonyms, what justifies pseudonyms?
The main difference lies in the key function of identifying a party’s name: the ability of the public to monitor the judicial process, and the ability to monitor the soundness of fact-finding in relation to the party.That’s why the courts are “existing”Purely legal… issues” – primarily the legal validity or invalidity of such regulations (as in roe).In this case, the court concluded that “the public interest in knowing the identities of litigants is unusually weak.” (Primary pseudonym case from the Second Circuit, aptly titled Sealed Plaintiff v Sealed Defendantand from the Third Circuit Doe v Megless.)
Likewise, citing Publius v. Boyer-Vine (I’m one of the attorneys representing the pseudonym Publius, although I started actually using the pseudonym as the subject of an academic, blog, or lawsuit a few years ago),
[U]Blocking Publius at this point would deprive him of his First Amendment right to anonymous political speech… [And] Due to the nature of this case, the fact that the defendant is a government entity balances the balance in favor of the plaintiff – a legal challenge to the constitutionality of California statutes applicable to the content of Publius’ speech [citing Sealed Plaintiff]… [A]At this stage of the proceedings, the court held that it was in the public’s interest in this case to best serve Publius by allowing it to proceed anonymously.
To be sure, even in some purely legal challenges, the identity of the plaintiff may be relevant to some incidental issues, such as whether the plaintiff is eligible to challenge); sometimes a court may deny a pseudonym on these grounds.In addition, courts have sometimes asserted in general terms that “the public”has a “legitimate interest in knowing all relevant facts, including the identity of the parties,” and “[t]People have the right to know who is using their courts” (see Pages 1369-70 of this article).Perhaps because of this, pseudonyms are not automatic even when plaintiffs file a legal challenge (as quoted Publius show).
Nonetheless, the seal plaintiff and Publius The citation helps explain why pseudonyms are more likely to be used in law-focused cases involving challenges to statutes than in often fact-focused cases (defamation suits, harassment restraining order cases, etc.) The identity of the parties may be in dispute with the facts. And, rightly or wrongly, in this law-centric situation, pseudonyms have a lot of legal authority, roe– similar situation.
Note that I blogged about this a year ago; Sorry to repeat myself, but my feeling is that people continue to be interested in this question.