By: Jonathan Levin  | 

Student Court Rules Three Constitutional Amendments Unconstitutional

Three clauses of the Constitution of the Yeshiva University Wilf Campus Undergraduate Student Body were declared to have been passed unconstitutionally last year, the Student Court of the Yeshiva University Wilf Campus ruled on April 27 in a case titled Wilf Amendments Committee v General Assembly (GA).

The first two clauses stipulate that the General Assembly, by majority vote, must approve a student official taking temporary leave and that it can file for the dissolution of any Wilf Campus Student Government club to the Office of Student Life. The third clause declared unconstitutional stipulated that the ratification of any proposed amendments would require 40% of students to participate in the election.

The court's ruling has two implications: One, all proposed amendments no longer require approval from the Amendments Committee, which now serves a secretarial role. Two, in the future, proposed amendments must be voted on and approved by the General Assembly one week before the student election, or risk being declared unconstitutional.

The matter settled by the court case dates back to the 2020-21 academic year. Previous readings of the constitution, which the court now invalidated, stipulated that the Amendments Committee needed to approve proposed amendments, which subsequently, in their final form, would be voted on at least one week before the election by the General Assembly to decide if they should show up on the ballot. Once on the ballot, students would decide whether to approve the proposals and incorporate them as clauses in the constitution. 

Last year, not following the Amendments Committee, then-Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) submitted four of seven proposed amendments — originally rejected by the committee — to be voted on by the General Assembly. 

According to court documents, Greenberg’s approval of the rejected amendment proposals was requested by the then Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY) representative of the Irving I. Stone Beis Medrash Program (SBMP), who had originally submitted the proposals to the Amendments Committee at the start.

After the General Assembly approved three of these to appear on the ballot, occurring six days before the election, the Amendments Committee filed suit with the student court to prevent its inclusion.

The court declined to hear the case, allowing the election to proceed, and the amendments were approved and incorporated into the constitution.

In an emergency resolution this April 7, a vote to strike one of these clauses — the one stipulating that 40% of the student body was required to vote to ratify new amendments — failed to secure the 80% threshold required for emergency amendment votes, as outlined in the constitution.

Four days later, on April 11, David Tanner (YC ‘22) filed a second suit against the General Assembly in student court on behalf of the Amendments Committee, which he chairs, requesting that they rehear the case it rejected last year.

On April 15, four days later, the General Assembly filed a brief with the student court requesting it “overrule” the General Assembly’s own actions “post-facto” and remove the amendments passed the previous year, which the General Assembly recognized as “illegal,” from the constitution.

The General Assembly’s brief argued that in the previous year, it had illegally bypassed the Amendments Committee, had illegally changed the text of the proposals in the middle of its vote and had voted to approve the proposals after the one-week deadline had passed. Based on these arguments, filed as its third, fourth and fifth arguments, the General Assembly requested that the student court strike the clauses from the constitution.

On April 27, the student court made its decision, ruling unanimously that the clauses were illegally passed due to the General Assembly having failed to approve them before the one-week deadline, consenting to the fifth argument from the General Assembly’s brief. 

However, rejecting their third and fourth argument, the court stated that the Amendments Committee serves a secretarial role and that no clause in the constitution empowers them to approve proposed amendments before sending them to the General Assembly.

In practice, the court’s ruling declared that the General Assembly can create new proposed amendments and edit preexisting ones without the input or approval of the Amendments Committee.

This case also witnessed the student court partially overruling a previous case, Yeshiva University Canvassing Committee v YSU, dated to the 2019-20 academic year. This is the first known instance of the student court overruling a previous court’s decision.

In Yeshiva University Canvassing Committee v YSU, the student court ruled that amendment proposals must be deliberated by a constitutional convention, allowing students to raise any of their opinions and propose new amendments. The court’s partial overruling of that case declares that amendments need not be deliberated at such a convention.

After the court made its decision, the student court’s chief justice, Daniel Melool (YC ‘22), authored a concurrence, joined by justices Adam Aurbach (YC ‘22) and Akiva Cooper (YC ‘23). Melool issued two points, the first being that court decisions are not final and can be subject to court decisions in the future. Additionally, Melool wrote that in practice, the court does not order unconstitutional amendments to be struck from the constitution, but just won’t enforce them. (Disclosure: Melool is managing editor of The Commentator. He was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.)

Tanner was pleased with the court’s decision. He told The Commentator, “I’m glad the court ruled in favor of the Amendments Committee and that the illegally passed amendments have been deemed unconstitutional.”

Photo Caption: The student court declared three amendments unconstitutional last month

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons