The Student Association Student Court has agreed to hear a case this week that may affect the way students are represented in the SA Senate.
S.M. “Skip” Oliva, an officer with the SA Senate, filed a complaint Monday against three SA officials, the Senate and the Joint Elections Committee. He said the current election system violates the SA charter, which guarantees “essential representational equality” for all students.
The SA constitution, approved in 1976, created four at-large seats in the Senate to represent students in all schools. Later amendments to the constitution split the at-large seats into two undergraduate and two graduate seats, and created a formula that apportions one senator for every 1,000 graduate or undergraduate students in each school.
Oliva claims these changes go against the SA’s charter. He asks the court to declare the amendments null and void and to reinstate the provisions of the 1976 document.
Oliva also contends the electoral process for senators violates the equal representation clause. Currently, students cast votes equal to the number of senators that represent their school and division. He said the system means students in larger schools are unfairly allowed to vote for more senators than those in smaller schools.
“You can’t have me as an individual represented by four people (in the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences) and a School of Business and Public Management student as an individual represented by two,” he said.
Oliva said nothing in the SA charter or constitution authorizes the JEC, which oversees elections for the SA, to allow voting to occur in this manner.
“The problem is the procedure isn’t really written down anywhere,” he said. “The JEC has overstepped its authority, albeit without malice.”
Oliva, who served on the JEC last year, wants the court to order the Senate to enact legislation that would ensure elections preserve “essential representational equality” and prevent the JEC from holding elections for the Senate under the current method. He said he feels he could not ask the court to devise with procedures itself. Chief Justice Matt Leddicotte said the court debated whether it can require the Senate to produce legislation and has not reached a conclusion.
Undergraduate Sen. Jonathan Skrmetti (CSAS), who is Rules Committee chair and a defendant in the suit, is representing himself and the Senate. He said he hopes the matter can be settled before it goes to trial, which is scheduled for Saturday.
Oliva said he has not been approached about a settlement but is willing to work with the other parties to resolve the matter. Kim McCaughey, the JEC’s representative in the case, also said she hopes a settlement can be reached.
But SA Executive Vice President Jesse Strauss, who also is named in the suit with SA President Carrie Potter, said no one has spoken to him about a settlement, and the court needs to clarify the term “representative equality.”
Skrmetti said because the SA is considering adoption of a new constitution as part of the split into undergraduate and graduate bodies, the case may be moot.
“Clearly we need to stick to the charter,” Skrmetti said. “But the general consensus is we’ll be operating under a new constitution (next year.)”
Oliva said the possibility of adopting a new constitution makes his case more pressing. He said he has not heard any proposals that would make the representation equal.
Oliva and Skrmetti said they do not think it is feasible for any changes to affect this year’s elections. Leddicotte said he is unsure whether the ruling would be for this year or next, but he assumes the issue will arise in oral arguments.