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Alterman wins in UJ case

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Front Page


In a unanimous decision, the Union Judiciary found a senate money resolution (SMR) granting funds to bring William “Bill” Ayers and Robert H. King to campus to be “null-and-void.”

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Rachel Graham Kagan ’09, found that the SMR was allocated to a project that was “not a Union project,” and, as a result, did not meet the standards for SMRs as defined in the Union Constitution.

“I think this sets a clear and excellent precedent for future use of the Senate Discretionary Fund,” Class of 2009 Eric Alterman, who brought the case, said. “A “Union Government Project” must be more than just Senate approval or the efforts [of] club leaders doubling as Senators. Senators should be initiating projects, individually and though committees, for the benefit of their constituents.”

Lev Hirschhorn ’11, one of the respondents, disagreed. “I do not think the justices made the right decision. I think that a more careful analysis would clearly have shown that this was a union project.”

The issue before the court was whether an SMR, which allocated $900 to bring Ayers and King to campus, should have been passed. The SMR was brought by Class of 2011 Senators Alex Melman and Hirschhorn, who are also members of Democracy for America (DFA), one of the groups sponsoring the Ayers event.

DFA received $1,500 out of the requested funds of $2348.18 from the F-board, not enough to fund both the speakers and other club activities. As a result, DFA chose to apportion less than one third of its funding, $400, towards the Ayers event. When combined with $1,500 from Students for a Democratic Society and $600 from university departments, the money added up to $2,600.

At the time, organizers of the Ayers/King event focused solely on raising the honorariums of $2,500 and $1,000 for the two speakers, respectively. While $3,500 falls short of the actual costs of bringing the speakers when considering costs of security (see “Funding for Ayers visit still up in the air on page 1), organizers believed at the time $3,500 would be sufficient. The SMR, then, seeks to make up the shortfall of $900.

When, as senators, Hirschhorn and Melman came to the Senate for funding, Alterman argued they were acting as club leaders who needed money F-board would not provide. At trial, Alterman condemned the action, saying, “every club has to make tradeoffs. It should not be a privilege for club leaders who are also Senators to use what is essentially that loophole.”

“What I think is important to note is this is not an either/or scenerio,” Melman said at trial. “It was both a union project and a club project.”

The justices disagreed.

“It is this Court’s determination that in order to qualify as a union project, the project must, at the very least, represent a true collaborative effort between the Union and another individual or group. It is not necessary for the Union to initiate every idea or project its members work on, but they must be substantially and actively involved. In this case, it is impossible to parse exactly where Mr. Melman and Mr. Hirschhorn’s roles as senators left off and their roles as club leaders began, but this court believes that though senators were involved, this was not a Union project.”

Another issue that came up at trial was the final Senate vote on the SMR, which was 10-8, with Hirschhorn and Melman refusing to recuse themselves. Had they done so, the SMR would not have passed.

Associate Justice Judah Marans ’11 addressed this issue in his opinion: “The issue is not whether the senators should necessarily have recused themselves as much as it is whether the Student Union involvement was disingenuous. Had this truly been a Student Union event, it may not necessarily have been unconstitutional for the senators to advance something that they, and a club of which they are a part, are interested in, an interest that happens to be manifest in leadership of that particular club.”

Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this report.