When conservative students challenged the constitutionality of some practices at the University of North Texas, school officials responded with a demand for the name and contact info of every member of the Young Conservatives of Texas’ North Texas Chapter.
Judge Sean Jordan of the Eastern District of Texas said no.
Judge Jordan recently issued a powerful opinion holding that student groups do not waive First Amendment protections when they challenge unconstitutional government actions on their campus.
Back in 2020, the North Texas chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) brought a lawsuit against the University of North Texas (UNT) arguing that UNT’s tuition practices violate federal law. Rather than address the straightforward legal challenge to its tuition policies, UNT has spent the better part of two years throwing every procedural hurdle it could think of at YCT. Once those attempts to derail the lawsuit failed, it moved to bully tactics—demanding disclosure of that contact information.
Public disclosure of YCT’s members’ names is a real threat. YCT members at UNT have faced harassment, threats of physical violence, doxing, and attempts to be banned from campus. If universities could compel political advocacy groups on campus to publicly disclose their members, it would be much harder for groups like YCT to recruit. Which is why the Supreme Court has recently and repeatedly held that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy without a substantial justification constitutes an unconstitutional restraint on freedom of association.
Despite this clear precedent, UNT pressed forward with its demand anyway, claiming that YCT waived the protection afforded to other student advocacy groups by … well … engaging in advocacy. Represented by attorneys at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, YCT took the issue to the federal courthouse.
In a short and direct opinion, Judge Jordan ruled in favor of YCT and put a stop UNT’s unconstitutional bully tactics, holding that “UNT has not shown a need for [YCT’s membership list] that is sufficient to justify the potential chilling effect that unprotected disclosure may have on the free exercise of the constitutionally protected right of association.”
This is an important win for all groups that seek to protect the rights of their members against the overreaches of government. Just because an organization sues to enforce the Constitution, or any right of their members being infringed, does not meant that the government can go through its membership rolls to harass and bully its members. If the government’s argument had won, it would have made it even harder than it already is to challenge its illegal actions.