Students Sue Over Aid to Public-Interest Lawyers

Eight students from various campuses of the State University of New York have charged that the mandatory diversion of funds for student activities to a public-interest law firm is unconstitutional. They have sued to halt further collections.

In a class action lawsuit filed last week in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the students contend that a system of compulsory contributions to the New York Public Interest Research Group, known as NYPIRG, violates their constitutional rights to free speech, privacy and due process of law.
Meanwhile, an earlier suit against a similar public-interest law group is pending in New Jersey. ”Nobody should be required to financially support anybody else’s politics,” said John G. Collins of the Mid-Atlantic Legal Foundation, the New York students’ lawyer. ”This suit is designed to protect everyone, regardless of their views.”

Marilyn A. Ondrasik, NYPIRG’s executive director, called the suit ”an attack by a right-wing, corporate-funded legal foundation” and charged that Mr. Collins’s group had, for strictly political reasons, singled out her group from the many student organizations financed in a similar manner. Funds are diverted to NYPIRG, she noted, only if a majority of students on a campus consents.

The New York public interest group, one of many inspired by Ralph Nader and founded in the early 1970’s, has a yearly budget of $2.5 million. In recent years it has become involved in such issues as nuclear disarmament, recycling and access to the courts.

David Margolick

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