The Trial Of The Century

The frivolous lawsuit that Eric Alterman has launched against Alex Melman, Lev Hirschhorn, and the Union Senate is set to take place Saturday at 5pm. Location is TBD, witness lists and evidence are due by Friday at 5pm.

Below is the text of Chief Justice Rachel Graham Kagan’s email:

Having received a case for review from petitioner Eric Alterman against the Student Union Senate and specifically Class of 2011 Senators Lev Hirschhorn and Alex Melman, the Union Judiciary has unanimously decided to grant certiorari, and thus has agreed to hear the case.

The complaint has been made that in passing a particular Senate Money Resolution (SMR) to support a program being organized and run by Democracy for America (DFA) and Students for a Democratic Society, the Senate violated Article IX, Section 1 of the Student Union Bylaws. That section states, “All Senate Money Resolutions must be used for Student Union Government projects and/or operation.”

In the interests of the greatest transparency possible by the Union Judiciary, we have decided to release both this, our order, as well as the original complaint which is attached, to the media and student body.

The Constitution requires that a case must be heard within five academic days unless both parties agree to a date after this period. Tuesday of next week is five academic days from today. Pending consideration by the justices and the input of the parties we will announce the day of the hearing as soon as possible.

Until such time as a Clerk of the Court is appointed, please contact the Chief Justice about the scheduling of a trial date and time. The Union Judiciary recommends holding this hearing Monday afternoon. If this date is unworkable, please provide your availability for Friday – Tuesday of this week.

If either Petitioner or Respondent(s) need assistance in locating appropriate counsel to assist them, the Court will attempt to help, though we can offer no guarantees.

We would remind all parties that only facts presented to the Court at trial through witness testimony or admitted evidence will be used by the UJ when formulating a decision. However, we will be extremely mindful of the limited preparation time both sides will have had, and the lack of specific legal expertise by all parties. Don’t worry.

From this point on, please direct all communication the UJ listserve (


11 thoughts on “The Trial Of The Century”

  1. I would like to point out a noticble difference between the SMR for the Winter Gala and the SMR to bring Robert King and William Ayers. The winter Gala was an event brought by a student to the union as a way to have the senate involved in a project benefiting the university and raising social awareness. In this regard the Gala was no different than the church fund raiser by Andy Hogan except for the fact that this project was undertaken by a student who at that point was nit part of the student union. The SMR for Bill Ayers on the other hand was the efforts to raise funds for a club speaker after the money alocated to it was deemed insuficient. By granting this SMR the union has effectivly become a replacement for F board. Now many people have commented that this lawsuit is happening due to the fact that william Ayers is contreversial but I maintain that rather this SMR was only passed due to the contreversial nature of Ayers. I believe that had the speaker been less prominent the entire idea of using an SMR would never have been brought up.

  2. Eric,

    You know I have the highest regard for your work as a Senator, and I fully believe your statement in the complaint that you “commend the content of this project”. However, this is a highly politically charged project, and your response is markedly different than it has been to similar resolutions in the past.

    SMR S09-1 passed on January 25th, allocating $1500 to the 2009 Senior Winter Gala. While this was a worthy cause, I can’t see how it was any more of a Union Government project than the Ayers/King event. Why was this not worthy of a UJ suit? SMR F08-1 passed on October 12th, allocating $500 to the Prospect Hill Terrace Community Center. Not only did you vote for the SMR (it passed unanimously), but you were the one who actually motioned to add it as an emergency agenda item. Why was this project any different?

    I understand that your concern is out of budgetary rather than political reasons, but it still seems like this particular project is being singled out. Regardless of the validity of your complaint (I have my thoughts on that which I might discuss in a later post), can you explain why you chose this project as opposed to any others for the UJ?

  3. Eric,

    I always post under the pseudonym Loki. I am well aware that you have no qualms with the speakers, but merely the use of Senate funds. I look forward to seeing you at the trial!

  4. Hi everyone,

    I am not going to address the actual content of the case, mostly because I already have stated my position in the complaint to the UJ, and I don’t have much time to write a careful analysis.

    There are a few side issues I would like to address:

    1)Nathan, your description of this as a “frivolous lawsuit” is a complete misrepresentation. I have a legitimate concern about this SMR that I brought up with the appropriate body, who agreed that it was NOT frivolous by granting cert UNANIMOUSLY. My complaint is clearly rooted in the bylaws, and thus deserves a fair hearing. The purpose of these bylaws are to regulate the actions of the Senate, and they cannot simply be disregarded by the majority. Now, you may feel that the bylaws were regarded, but ultimately that will be for the UJ to decide. This is a check against pure majority rule, and a crucial one for democratic institutions.

    2)This has nothing to do with the politics of Ayers and/or King. Maybe that is some peoples’ case against this, but it is not mine. Alex (and I might be wrongfully assuming that this is Alex Melman posting) — you should know better than others that this has nothing to do with any dislike I have of the speakers, and I am disappointed that my explanation regarding this particular issue over email was disregarded.

  5. The practice of using SMRs to help fund special events does have a long history, but the portion of the by-laws that states that all SMRs must be used for Student Government projects/operations is a more recent addition (it was added in 2005). When the Senate used to have a $10,000-$15,000 discretionary fund each semester clubs would often come to the Senate and treat it as a “second F-Board.” With the change to the By-Laws in 2005 and the SAF Amendment in 2006, the Senate’s discretionary was reduced and the Finance Board was made in the sole source of club funds.

    As for the Constitutional issue in this, it is unclear whether the UJ could overturn the decision (though the UJ definitely has the authority to review it). One way to view it is that the Senate, by passing the SMR, determined that the bringing of the speakers is a “Union Government project.” The other way to view it is that the Senate ignored the By-Law and passed the SMR anyway.

  6. Seems to me like this lawsuit has more to do with a dislike of the speakers being brought to campus rather than any real Constitutional issue. The practice of using SMRs to help fund special events has a very long precedent, and I’ve never herd of anyone raising a constitutional challenge before.

    If a senator didn’t like the thought of these guys coming to campus, they had their chance to speak out against it in the senate meeting. This strikes me as using the UJ to overturn a majority vote.

  7. Cross-posted on the Justice:

    posted 3/04/09 @ 5:00 PM EST
    I was shot down 4-3 from within Students United for Israel when I proposed bringing Robert Spencer ( I’m not sure how my senators (2011) managed to get a majority of the Senate to sponsor just as extreme of a figure to come for their club.


  8. Not true, the charge of murder was dropped, but King still plead guilty to “Conspiracy to Commit Murder,” so a murder no, but still a “conspirer.”

    As for Bill Ayers, he may have other aspects to his life, but what he still is remembered for is planting pipe bombs in the pentagon, a New York City police office, and setting fire to a judge’s house. Yeah, that’s quite a resume right there.

  9. People who only use one title to describe Ayers as a “terrorist” seem to be ignoring the many others that describe him, namely–author, historian, professor at the University of Illinois, former public figure, political activist, and intellectual.

    Also, it’s prudent to mention that Robert King spent 31 years in prison (29 in solitary confinement) for a crime HE DID NOT COMMIT. All charges were officially dropped in 2001.

  10. By historic speakers, you me former Weather Underground leader/terrorist Bill Ayers, and former Black Panther member Robert Hillary king who was convicted on conspiracy to commit murder. Correct?

  11. To be clear, Eric is suing to overturn a Student Union Senate vote to invest nine hundred dollars to bring two historical speakers to campus.

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