There is an interesting fight brewing over a column written by conservative blogger Ed Whelan who has published the allegedly true identity of one of his critics. Whelan says that a critic calling himself “Publius” is really South Texas law professor John Blevins (shown left).
Whelan was upset with Publius for criticizing him as a “legal hitman” in his review of the record of Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. In Bench Memos (on National Review Online), Whelan says that he was “reliably informed” that Publius was Whelan. Whelan was the general counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary for the Republican majority and the Senior Vice President and Counselor to the General Counsel for Verizon Corporation. He later served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Whelan says that he used another earlier pseudonym “Edward Winkleman” to write to Blevins to ask if he was Publius. Blevins responded that he is “not commenting on [his] identity” and that he uses a pseudonym “[f]or a variety of private, family, and professional reasons.”
Whelan decision to deny anonymity to Blevins was in response to pretty mild criticism. He insists in his post that Publius “has been biting at my ankles in recent months.” Yet, he quotes his unreasonable unreasonable “essentially a legal hitman” who “pores over [a nominee’s] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist.” I must say that in comparison to what has come my way from anonymous bloggers that seems pretty mild. He writes:
Well, I’m amused to learn that I was wrong about publius’s lack of legal education. I’ve been reliably informed that publius is in fact the pseudonym of law professor John F. Blevins of the South Texas College of Law. I e-mailed Blevins to ask him to confirm or deny that he is publius, and I copied the e-mail to the separate e-mail address, under the pseudonym “Edward Winkleman,” that publius used to respond to my initial private complaints about his reckless blogging. In response, I received from “Edward Winkleman” an e-mail stating that he is “not commenting on [his] identity” and that he writes under a pseudonym “[f]or a variety of private, family, and professional reasons.” I’m guessing that those reasons include that friends, family members, and his professional colleagues would be surprised by the poor quality and substance of his blogging.
There is a value of anonymity on these sites and bloggers can always bar abusive posters and trolls. I do not see why this extreme action was necessary. While I do not use anonymous identities, the use of such pseudonyms is part of the freedom that characterizes the Internet and encourages many to share their thoughts. Professor Blevins criticisms do not warrant such a response in my view. I also do not see why it is warranted to question Professor Blevins understanding of things like common law. He was making a perfectly good-faith argument in these comments as far as I can tell.