Opinions of the Beren Constitutional Council for ‘Pollack v. SCWSC’, First Ever Beren Trial
The following are the Majority and Dissenting Opinions of the Beren Constitutional Council as adapted for the Opinions Section.
Pollack v. SCWSC [September 23, 2019]
Majority Opinion (Adler, Evgi, Lindenberg)
The plaintiffs claimed that after trying to create or renew clubs at the beginning of the fall semester they were denied because they submitted the application after the Sept. 2 deadline. The applications opened on Aug. 26, leaving one week to submit for approval. This timeline has been accepted as fact. The plaintiffs claimed that this one week period violated the Beren Constitution, which states in Article VII Section 1B that “applications for new club status shall be made during an agreed upon two week period.”
While this claim might seem correct on the surface, the wording of the constitution can be interpreted in two ways. The defense argued that the word “during” connotes “within” as opposed to “for the duration of.” The majority of the court felt this was a compelling read of the article. The plaintiff argued that the word could not be read this way, as section 1A of the Beren Constitution states specifically that “the renewal of club status shall be made... within the first three weeks of the fall semester,” which would make the defense’s reading of 1B seemingly redundant. However, 1A refers specifically to the renewal of club status, while 1B refers to applications for new clubs. As such, the reading of “during” as “within” is not a redundant understanding. When the constitution is interpreted in this way, SCWSC did not violate Article VII;1B by keeping club applications open for one week, as that one week was within the agreed upon two week time frame.
The plaintiff also argued that SCWSC and SGA failed to fulfill their duties of enhancing student life by denying club status if applications were submitted after the deadline. The majority of the court felt that this argument did not hold water. The defense brought evidence to show that they did and continue to fulfill their duties to enhance student life, but stated that they must have hard deadlines made by the student leaders or by OSL in order to operate in a functional manner.
The defense supplied emails where SCWSC officials reached out to students who’s clubs had been denied to suggest other ways they would be able to bring their events to campus without forming an official club. They also presented evidence that they sent personal reminder emails to club heads who hadn’t renewed their clubs as the deadline approached.
The majority opinion in this case does not address how the justices personally feel about the goals of the clubs that were denied or the exact timeline of actions taken by heads of proposed clubs once they realized the deadline had passed. These issues brought up by the plaintiff were irrelevant in our final decision. Our job as justices is simply to interpret the constitution, not to enforce it. Accordingly, the final decision lay only in whether or not SCWSC violated the Beren Constitution. The majority felt that the plaintiff did not present enough evidence to prove this was the case and thus we found in favor of the defense.
Dissenting Opinion (Eliach, Kelman)
The majority ruled in favor of Stern College for Women Student Council (SCWSC). Article VII Section 1B of the constitution states “applications for new club statues shall be made during an agreed upon two week period within the first three weeks of each academic semester...” The majority opinion claims that SCWSC did not violate Article VII Section 1B by having the club form open from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2 (seven days). The plaintiff argued that the seven days that the student body had to fill out the club form was in violation of this article which mandates a full two week period. The defense claimed that the phrase “during an agreed upon two week period” only stipulates a maximum of two weeks, but allows for anything less than that. They interpreted the word “during” as a larger time frame in which at some point the club form had to be available.
Three of the five justices were comfortable with this particular understanding of “during” and therefore did not find SCWSC in violation of the constitution. However, the dissenting opinion is troubled by this reading which seems to be contrary to the meaning of the clause. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the first definition of during is “throughout the duration of.” This then mandates that the club form be open throughout the duration of the decided upon two weeks. As such, the defendant evidently rejected Article VII Section 1B by only having the form open for seven days, rather than the prescribed 14.
Some will argue that according to the dictionary’s secondary definition, which defines “during” as “at a point in time in the course of,”1 the defense did not violate the constitution. This definition means that having the club form open for less than two weeks is constitutional. Yet, if we were to accept this definition that the constitution had no minimum requirement, one would need to accept that had SCWSC only opened the form, for say, three minutes, that too would have been constitutional. If we look at the continuation of clause 1B it states that the two week period must be “within the first three weeks of each academic semester”. It thus becomes apparent that the three weeks were the span of time in which the two week window needed to be open. If the two weeks were not a minimum requirement, the additional requirement for a three week time frame would be redundant.
Moreover, when discussing the definition of the word “during” it is relevant to note the intent of the authors of the constitution at the time of its ratification. As an author of the constitution, Justice Kelman can verify that the word “during” was employed to relay the full two week period.
If one is still not convinced of our argument against the defense’s perception of the word “during”, we additionally believe that SCWSC did not fulfill their duties required by the constitution. Article II Section 2 states that the purpose of SGA is “To gather and express student opinion, actively represent student views, appropriately address student concerns, and ensure that students are informed of all information of impact to their undergraduate experience”. Additionally, Article III Section IV clause B defines SCWSC’s purpose as, “To carry out the desires of the Stern College for Women undergraduate student body.”
The plaintiffs' concerns in the case at hand were of the rejection of the formation or renewal of the Psychology Club, Education Club, and Sexual Abuse Awareness club; all endeavors that students evidently desired and would enhance their undergraduate experience.
The defense argued that the September 2nd deadline was given to them by the Office of Student Life (OSL). However, in this email exchange with OSL, it is clear that OSL encouraged SCWSC leaders to reach out and adjust the time frame if they thought it would be more fitting for the student body. The genuine wishes of the students to have the full two week period was met with a firm and uncompromising response. SCWSC was less interested in fulfilling their constitutional obligations, but preferred to correct the injustice of ingratitude by the student body.
Today the Constitutional Council lost sight of why the constitution and this very council was created in the first place. We were saddened to see the formalistic attitude which emphasized a narrow and technical reading of the constitution. This case must be contextualized with careful attention to the social and cultural needs of our campus in addition to the more broad and holistic view of our brand new constitution. Is misconstruing one word of the constitution to justify SCWSC’s actions more significant than the aims of the SGA that align with the plain meaning of the text?
Photo Caption: The Beren Constitutional Council was established in May 2019
Photo Credit: Pixhere