Student Court Affirms Election of Sy Syms Student Council President, Overturning Precedent
The Wilf Campus Student Supreme Court affirmed the election of Andrew Jacobson (SSSB ‘24) as Sy Syms School of Business Student Council (SSSC) president in an unanimous decision last month, rejecting a claim that the candidate who received the most votes, named in the opinion as John Doe, was illegitimately disqualified.
The suit, filed by Andrew Warren (SSSB ‘24), alleged that the Wilf Campus Canvassing Committee, the student organization tasked with overseeing elections, had disqualified Doe based on a faulty reading of a previous court decision. Warren argued that an earlier decision, Akiva Poppers v. Yeshiva University Canvassing Committee, allowed credits from summer classes to count towards the grade standing constitutionally required for certain student government positions.
In the 2020 Poppers decision, the court ruled that Akiva Poppers (SSSB ‘22), who had edged out his opponent for the Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY) presidency by one vote, could count “in progress” summer classes towards his constitutionally recognized grade standing.
The Canvassing Committee argued that unlike in Poppers, when graduation — and the transfer of student government positions — was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact Doe’s summer courses had not formally begun meant the credits would not meet Poppers’ criteria of “in progress.” The Committee also questioned the overall validity of Poppers, arguing that the ruling contradicts the Wilf Campus Student Constitution, which provides that class standing for purposes of holding office be “determined by the Office of the Registrar.”
Doe himself was not involved in arguing the case, and his name was redacted from the court’s opinion due to personal requests and legal issues related to the disclosure of information related to his class standing, a representative of the court told The Commentator.
In its opinion, the court accepted the Canvassing Committee’s arguments that the precedent set by Poppers did not apply to the current case, and that the constitutional definition of the class standing required to hold office is indeed identical to the registrar’s definition, overturning the court’s standard in Poppers that allowed any credits “in progress” to count towards a student’s constitutional class standing.
The court acknowledged that since the registrar only counts completed credits with grades submitted by professors toward class standing, the decision means that any student who receives an insufficient number of graded credits by graduation day to meet a position’s class standing requirement would be liable to disqualification by the Canvassing Committee, even after receiving a plurality of student votes.
Although the court was unanimous in overturning Poppers — the second known precedent ever overturned in the court’s history — Justice Jacob Karp (YC ‘23) wrote a partial dissent, criticizing the court’s new standard that would likely disqualify many candidates, and proposing that courses with coursework completed be counted toward class standing, even before any final grade is given.
Warren, in a statement to The Commentator, also pointed out problems about the enforcement of the majority opinion.
“I see nothing wrong with the court following the strict wording of the constitution,” said Warren. “But I suspect the canvassing committee of ignoring the verdict, as it’s unlikely not a single election winner was disqualified thanks to a late grade. Since credits are private knowledge and the canvassing committee dissolves on graduation day, there’s no way of holding anyone accountable and enforcing this rule.”
Mr. Poppers himself, who had represented Warren in oral arguments, expressed dissatisfaction with the decision.
“The Student Court has become a kangaroo court,” Mr. Poppers told The Commentator. “The ruling is illogical, and suggests that elections have been incorrectly conducted for as long as the Constitution has existed … The ruling implies that students who are graduating vote for next year’s senior representative and that most students are ineligible to serve as a student council president at any point in their time at YU … By overturning precedent two years in a row, the door has been opened for existing precedent to be overturned on a yearly basis, depending on the wishes of the current student government. This is a sham.”
While the court’s opinion did acknowledge difficulties that could arise in the implementation of the new standard, the majority explained that it was constrained in its decision by the “only reasonable reading” of the Constitution.
“Even as there are potential logistical issues with the ramifications of this opinion,” the opinion, delivered by Justice Elishama Marmon (YC ‘24), stated “at least one thing remains clear: it is outside of the purview of this Court to decide what it thinks laws ought to be. Such a responsibility is vested with the Amendments Committee, the General Assembly, and the student body. The Court thinks it advisable for these groups to take action to rectify the situation, whether by providing a more workable definition of class standing than the Registrar’s or through other methods they deem appropriate.” (Marmon is managing editor of The Commentator. He was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.)
Members of the Canvassing Committee told The Commentator that they felt vindicated by the court’s ruling.
“The Canvassing Committee is very happy that justice prevailed and that the court confirmed our decision to name Andrew Jacobson the next Sy Syms President,” said 2022–’23 Canvassing Committee Chairman Daniel Ganopolsky (YC ‘24).
“Mr. Warren and Mr. Poppers’ claims were absurd and unconstitutional. We are delighted that the court struck down the 2020 Poppers case as completely incompatible with reality. I’d like to thank my colleague, President Baruch Lerman, who played a vital role in ensuring justice was served on behalf of the whole Wilf student body.”
Incoming YSU President Zakkai Notkin (YC ‘24), in a statement to The Commentator, expressed the Wilf Student Government’s willingness to deal with potential challenges that may arise in future elections in a constitutional manner.
“Due to the way credits work, I don't think the fall election will be affected,” Notkin explained. “For the spring election, we are hopefully going to have a meeting with all stakeholders, including OSL, to determine how to best follow the rules while maintaining fair elections, including the possibility of amending the constitution to clarify or change the rules.”
Immediately following the opinion's release on May 19, Warren submitted a petition to challenge the court’s ruling on grounds that were not publicly disclosed. The court unanimously upheld its ruling.
Jonathan Levin contributed to this story.
Photo Caption: The Student Court upheld the Canvassing Committee’s decision to disqualify a candidate for SSSC president.
Photo Credit: The Commentator