By SCOTT BAUER and TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that parents suing the Madison School District over its gender-identity policies must disclose their names to opposing attorneys but not necessarily reveal them to the district or the public.
The 4-3 ruling comes after a Dane County Circuit Court judge in 2020 temporarily suspended parts of the district’s guidance on gender identity. A group of unnamed parents and a conservative law firm sued to overturn that guidance.
The case centers on a policy the district adopted in 2018 that calls for district personnel to call students by their preferred names and pronouns and not disclose students’ gender identities to anyone, including their parents. Some parents sued in 2020, alleging the policy violates their right to parent their children as they see fit and their right to religious freedom.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative law firm, is representing the parents. The firm’s attorneys asked Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington to allow them to proceed without revealing the parents’ names out of fear they would be subject to retaliation and harassment.
Remington ordered the firm to give the names to him and school district attorneys under seal. The firm refused, arguing that the district’s attorneys could leak the names and that their identities aren’t relevant. The firm has insisted that the parents are indeed Madison school district residents and, as such, have standing to sue.
The Supreme Court upheld Remington’s order and remanded the case back to him to continue deliberations on the merits.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who often acts as a swing vote, sided with the court’s three liberal justices in upholding the order.
He wrote for the majority that court proceedings are presumed to be open to the public. The parents essentially want the justices to “reformulate” state law on anonymous litigation but nothing suggests the district attorneys would violate Remington’s seal order.
“While we protect certain vulnerable legal participants, such as children and crime victims, the business of courts is public business, and as such is presumed to remain open and available to the public,” he wrote. “In this case, the circuit court’s decision to withhold the parents’ identities from the public and the District, but not the District’s attorneys, was well within its discretion.”
Luke Berg, a deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, called the ruling a disappointing loss and chided the majority for not ruling on the merits of the policy. He said the firm would talk to the parents and that it would be up to them to decide whether to continue to participate in the lawsuit.
“We do not consider this case done. Not by a long shot,” Berg said.