What about the pseudonym in the lawsuit against the National Air and Space Museum / “Rosary Pro-Life” hat?

The First Amendment case, which I just noted below, is litigated Kristi L. v. National Air and Space Museum. Why a pseudonym, given that most litigation is conducted in the parties’ own names?

Here is the explanation given yesterday by Chief Justice Beryl Howell (DDC):

The plaintiffs are “students, parents and/or followers of Our Lady of the Rosary School Church in South Carolina” (“Ronica”) who are fervently “pro-life”. On January 20, 2023, plaintiffs wore hats emblazoned with the name Krunice and the phrase “Pro-Life” while visiting the National Air and Space Museum (“NASM”), where they claim they were “subjected to a pattern of continued misconduct from by at least five different employees, staff, employees and/or security guards” because of their “pro-life” message. Plaintiffs sued NASM and the police/security guards involved, alleging, among other things, violations of their rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution.

The five plaintiffs have now filed the instant motion because they are either parents or siblings of the other minor plaintiffs in this lawsuit, and claim they also cannot reveal their full names “to further protect the identities of their children and siblings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7 (b) and local civil rules 5.1 and 7.” The plaintiff’s request is accepted only because “[i]In cases where the identities of the minor and the parent or guardian are ‘inextricably intertwined,’ courts allow the parent or guardian to proceed under a pseudonym when suing on behalf of the minor.” Asylumworks v. Wolf, No. 1:20-cv-03815, 2020 US Dist. LEXIS 264893, at *8 n.2 (DDC Dec. 23, 2020). Rule 17(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a representative of the minor, such as a parent or guardian, to sue on behalf of the minor. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c). “[U]once the parent or guardian was granted anonymity, the child’s identity would effectively be revealed in a court filing through the combination of the parent’s or guardian’s name and the child’s initials. The protection extended to the child by Federal Rule 5.2(a)(3) and federal law would be exhausted.” Eley v. District of Columbia, 2016 US Dist. LEXIS 147955, *4 (DDC Oct. 25, 2016) (citation marks omitted )…. [I]It is further ORDERED that the plaintiffs, who are not minors, may continue to use their first names and initials of their last names as pseudonyms; … it is further ORDERED that the defendants are prohibited from publicly disclosing the identity of the plaintiff or any personal information that could lead to the identification of the plaintiff by the parties, except for the purpose of investigating the allegations contained in the complaint and preparing an answer or other dispositive motion in response.

Allowing parents to continue with a pseudonym to protect their children’s pseudonymity is generally the majority opinion (see p. 1400 of Law on Pseudonymous Litigation), although there are some contrary decisions, see p. 1401 n.230. Note that several adult plaintiffs in this case (including some students over the age of 18) who are not relatives of the child plaintiffs have sued under their own names.

Non-speech orders prohibiting defendants (including individual defendants) from publicly identifying pseudonymous plaintiffs are more widely condemned as direct restrictions on speech, although these are also sometimes issued (see pp. 1375-76). But in this case it seems likely that the individual defendants would only learn the names of the plaintiffs through litigation, which might make a restriction on the publication of those names more justified (see Seattle Times Co. against Rhinehart (1984)).

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