Speech First v. Shrum, No. 23-6054 (10th Cir. 2024)Annotate this Case
In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff organization, Speech First, Inc., challenged three policies implemented by Oklahoma State University (OSU) that allegedly suppressed the freedom of speech of its student members. The organization provided declarations of three pseudonymous students, Student A, Student B, and Student C, describing how these policies stifled their constitutionally protected expression. The main issue in this case was whether pseudonymous declarations could establish Article III standing for Speech First to bring the action. The defendant, OSU President Kayse Shrum, had successfully argued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma that the plaintiff lacked standing because it failed to identify its members by name, as required by the Supreme Court in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.
The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of Summers, stating that the Supreme Court had not intended to require legal names for standing and had not suggested that it was overruling decades of precedent allowing anonymous plaintiffs. The Tenth Circuit explained that the Supreme Court in Summers had simply required that there be a specific person who is injured, not just a statistical probability that some member would suffer an injury. The appeals court found that this requirement could be satisfied by identifying an injured member as “Member 1” just as well as by a legal name. It also pointed to previous cases where standing was granted based on pseudonymous or anonymous declarations.
The Tenth Circuit ultimately concluded that an organization can establish standing to bring a suit if at least one of its members, even if identified by a pseudonym, would have standing to sue in their own right. The court therefore reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.