Publius v. Boyer-Vine, No. CV-1152-LJO-SCO (E.D. Cal.) (May 9, 2017)
Publius seeks relief from the California legislative counsel and others for civil rights violations concerning a state law prohibiting publication of public officials’ home addresses without consent. Redress is sought under the First Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the Communications Decency Act. Publius obtained preliminary injunctive relief upon determination that the private address publications statute violated the First Amendment as applied.
Converging Competing Interests: The Right to Anonymous Speech vs. The Right to Access the Courts
Publius sought leave of court to proceed pseudonymously. The court found that Publius’ concerns about physical and economic harm or loss of employment did not justify permitting anonymity, given that litigants routinely fear such harms
Notwithstanding the court’s rejection of quotidien litigation concerns, the court took a different view where competing constitutional concerns are in play, and “borrowed” from other First Amendment litigation. The court agreed with Publius that cases permit anonymity in Establishment Clause litigation, where deeply held personal beliefs are in issue. Those cases persuaded the court to permit Publius to proceed without disclosure of identity, where Second Amendment rights are at the center of Publius online presence.
The court noted that no case addresses extending the right to anonymous political speech to any right to litigate anonymously. Balancing the right to speech anonymity against access to the judicial system, the court concluded that Publius’ ought not be forced to sacrifice access to federal court.
No prejudice to defendant would be shown by anonymity where a protective order would enter concerning discovery. While public interest arguments apply to both anonymity and disclosure the court found at that the time, case law supports Publius more than government, particularly where the challenge is to the constitutionality of a statute in connection with Publius’ speech. In a purely legal challenge, involved individuals’ roles are less significant that in other cases.