Court Strikes Down SUNY’s Fee Allocations

     NEW YORK (CN) – In a significant First Amendment decision, the Second Circuit ruled that the State University of New York-Albany‘s process for allocating student activity fees to campus groups is unconstitutional. See ruling.




     The College Action Leadership League of New York (CALL-NY), a conservative student organization, challenged the procedure, claiming the student government distributed the mandatory $80 per-student fee in a way that favored liberal groups.
     As part of the “student referendum advisory” process, the student government comes up with a tentative allocation plan and asks the student body to vote on it. The student government uses the results as an “advisory” tool in determining how much money each group gets. In the spring 2003 voting cycle, the New York Public Interest Research Group – a liberal advocacy group, according to the plaintiffs – collected $5 from each of the university’s 12,000 students, while the plaintiffs received only $1,200.
     CALL-NY claimed the use of student referenda to allocate money to recognized student organizations violates the First Amendment.
     The circuit held that because SUNY-Albany’s student fee system is a limited public forum, the allocation methods had to be viewpoint neutral. “There is a disconcerting risk that the (student government) could camouflage its discriminatory use of the referenda through post-hoc reliance on unspecified criteria,” Judge Walker wrote.
     But the decision may have been a Pyrrhic victory for the plaintiffs, as the circuit noted that the student government could achieve the same result by asking students whether they planned to attend an organization’s events. 

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