Update: As a result of a voter registration effort on the part of the GHS Constitutional Law Club on Wednesday, over 250 registration cards were completed. Congratulations!
Original story: At Greenwich High School, the pandemic put a damper on club life, but Nicole Orlofsky forged ahead with a new club, the Constitutional Law Club – in fall 2020. She was soon joined by Jane Freyer and Sarah Boside.
It was the beginning of their sophomore year and students were feeling isolated by remote learning.
They lucked out when social studies teacher Aaron Hull agreed to be the club advisor.
In the first year all club meetings were on Google Meetings, which meant the leaders had to make an extra effort to draw in members.
They created a virtual version of Jeopardy they called Double Jeopardy…because they also like puns.
Last year, their junior year, the club began to meet in person. The timing was good because all three girls had Mr. Hull as a teacher for We The People Class where they recruited more students.
The girls said young people often think the topic of Constitutional law sounds boring, but as they become aware of how controversies impact their young lives, the Constitution becomes relevant to their passions. The spark ignites.
“A lot of my friends joined up who had no interest in Constitutional law, but you’d be surprised how many people have an opinion,” Jane said. “At the freshmen club fair, we had to explain (the club) to people quickly, but students were interested.”
“Each club meeting we do something completely different,” Sarah said. “One meeting was led by Jane on the Constitutionality of an animal suing – It was Happy the elephant at a New York Zoo.”
Happy’s plight was indeed timely. In June, the NY State Court of Appeals ruled that the elephant may be intelligent and deserving of compassion, but could not be considered a person being illegally confined to the Bronx Zoo. The zoo and its supporters had warned that a victory for advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project could open the door to more legal action on behalf of animals, including family pets, farm animals and other species in zoos.
The club also discussed the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the US Supreme Court.
“This was big news,” Sarah said. “So we did a meeting to go through the process of getting a new justice confirmed. We picked a few (candidates) based on news articles and (discussed) who should be nominated.”
Jane said there are a variety of ways to make club meetings entertaining, and a favorite ice breaker exercise is to ask everyone, Which amendment would you date and why?
Also, Jane explained, “The club was popular among juniors because we were also juniors and it’s also the year people take AP Gov. That question is funnier when you already have to memorize the Bill of Rights.”
“As a 17-year-old, I shouldn’t have to watch the news all day long,” Jane said, adding that some days she’d come to a club meeting without having seen much more than a headline, but a good discussion would get going. “You’re never expected to know anything (about a topic).”
The club leaders said the students choose all the topics for discussion. In the recent past they have discussed local zoning and the recent Supreme Court Roe decision.
“We broke down the key passages of Roe and what it means in layman’s terms,” Jane said. “We have a politically diverse group – some leftists and some Libertarians. …There are so many different viewpoints and people love to argue, but people enjoy the debate. And it stays civil.”
“Constitutional Law focuses on national issues, but you want people informed and to become passionate and engaged citizens,” Nicole said. “One of the best ways to give them agency is to get them to register to vote.”
Toward that end, the club organized a voter registration effort, complete with a video PSA that talks students through filling out a voter registration form.
Last year Nicole created the original PSA with a student who has now graduated from GHS, Veda Swaminathan. Over 200 students filled out cards.
This year the video was refilmed – mask free – and updated by Nicole, Sarah, and Jane.
The private schools were also sent the PSA script to edit and create their own videos.
“It’s about giving people the time to do it,” Nicole said.
On Wednesday during Advisor Base students viewed the PSA and filled out registration forms.
“A lot of people don’t feel like their individual vote counts,” Sarah said.
“A lot of people in Gen Z have the sense – it’s a macabre sense of being doomed,” Jane said. “But voting matters.”
“And it’s less intimidating (to register to vote) when it’s students who are telling you it’s a normal part of the process,” Sarah said.
“Something I hope happens with this effort is that it helps somehow with the polarization,” Jane said.
“Not everyone is going to agree with me,” Nicole said. “The point is is to have agency. It starts now. If they don’t register now, they’ll go off to college (without having registered.)”
While the girls said they hoped a good number of the 658 members of the senior class would fill out voter registration forms at school, they noted that it’s also their legal right not to. They also have the option of taking the forms home and mailing them to town hall later.
Students who are interested in joining the GHS Constitutional Law Club are invited to inquire by email: [email protected]