Updated: Jan. 17, 2020 at 2:34 p.m.
The Student Court ordered the Student Association to respond to a complaint from an SA senator who alleged the organization violated its legislative process.
SA Sen. Jake Corsi, CCAS-G, filed a complaint with the Student Court Dec. 9 alleging that the SA violated the “separation of powers” structure in a government and its bylaws when it allowed members of the executive branch to serve on a special senate committee to propose changes to the SA’s constitution. The court ordered last week that the SA provide an answer to Corsi’s allegations by Jan. 28 to help the court’s justices determine how to proceed with the complaint.
SA Chief Court Justice Wayne Arminavage said the court ordered the SA to respond to the complaint because a complaint alleging that the SA violated its governing documents “elevates itself past” a dismissal, especially because Corsi points to specific parts of the document he said were violated.
“He was obviously specific enough in his complaint to list a couple of governing document places that were allegedly violated,” Arminavage said. “That was when, I think, it becomes incumbent upon the SA to provide some sort of legal response.”
The complaint states The Constitution Committee Act, which created the committee to propose changes to the document, violates the SA’s governing documents. SA bylaws state that special committees, like the constitution committee, must select members through the same process as standing senate committees, but the laws do not specify whether a non-senate member can serve on a special committee.
SA President SJ Matthews, SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin and Logan Basch, the SA’s vice president for legislative and judicial affairs, are all members of the SA’s executive branch and voting members on the constitutional committee.
In the complaint, Corsi said the constitution specifies that a committee be comprised of “the membership of the senate.”
“Thus, in light of the definitions provided by Article XI, the plaintiff argues that any non-senators possessing voting rights on a senate committee, be it standing or special, as unlawful,” the order states.
Arminavage said the court ordered the SA to respond because the student court system does not allow a defendant to file a motion to dismiss a complaint.
He said a defendant in a non-student court would likely file a motion to dismiss rather than answer Corsi’s complaint, and ordering the SA to respond to the allegations is “basically as close” as the SA has gotten in asking for a dismissal.
Arminavage said the court will decide on next steps – which could include making a ruling on the issue, dismissing the case or calling for a hearing – after reviewing the SA’s answer and determining if the complaint makes a “sufficient legal argument.”
“Because I’m not a huge fan of the court dismissing without even giving the other side a chance to respond, that is why I advocated for them to have a chance to respond,” he said.
Corsi, who filed the complaint, said the SA will “not have much” to say in their response later this month because the SA’s constitution “spells out pretty clearly” that only senators can receive voting privileges in a senate committee.
“It may sound nerdy and I’m just being a stickler, but to me, that matters,” he said. “That was the impulse behind filing the complaint, when the executive branch was unwilling to compromise at all.”
Basch, the SA’s vice president for legislative and judicial affairs, said he and SA Sen. AJ Link, LAW-G and the sponsor of the bill creating the committee, will draft the senate’s response to the court order. He said the constitutional committee is different from other SA committees in that members of the executive branch only serve to provide input to altering the constitution.
A full senate can ultimately make any changes to the document and decide whether to approve the proposed changes, he said. Basch said the committee has not yet made any procedural votes and won’t until the court has decided the suit.
He added that the executive members’ voting status on the committee does not “infringe” on the separation of the different branches.
Executive members are allowed to be involved in the process because the governing document discussed affects all SA branches, he said. After the senate votes to make any changes to the SA’s constitution, the student body must approve the document through a referendum, the constitution states.
“It’s just as if a group of us were to get together and write it,” Basch said. “The only difference is that a) it is sanctioned by the SA, and b) we have specific members who are allowed to vote because we’ve all selected representatives from our branches and c) that this way we can have more people in the meeting, but it won’t get too hectic.”
Link, Law-G and the sponsor of the bill that created the committee, said Corsi’s allegations are “theoretical and philosophical” because there is no specification about separation of powers in the constitution.
He said the SA’s diversity and inclusion assembly – part of the legislative branch that includes senators and student leaders with voting privileges within the group – sets a “precedent” that a non-senator can vote in a committee.
“I do believe that that power rests with the legislative branch, the legislative branch decides that they want the president to sit on a committee and be a voting member of that committee,” he said. “That’s well within the legislative branch’s power to be so.”
This story has been updated to reflect the following clarification:
We have updated this story to clarify a paraphrase from Logan Basch.