Student Court rules in favor of ridding SA constitution of first-year seats

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor

A referendum passed in the 2020 SA election approved changes to the SA constitution, like lowering the number of first-year senators in the body from five to two.

Updated: Nov. 22, 2020 at 8:19 p.m.

The Student Court unanimously voted to rid the Student Association Senate of all first-year seats for undergraduate and graduate students starting with the 2021-22 academic year.

Then-SA Sen. AJ Link, Law-G, and SA Sen. Robert Witte, G-at-Large, filed Witte v. Student Association last April, questioning the selection of first-year senators through senate appointment instead of a University-wide election and arguing the seats allow for overrepresentation of first-year students because they are already represented by each school’s seats. The SA senate’s five current first-year seats, made up of three undergraduate and two graduate positions, were scheduled next academic year to become two seats – one undergraduate and one graduate role – but the ruling will take out all future positions from the body.

A referendum passed in the 2020 SA election approved changes to the SA constitution, like lowering the number of first-year senators in the body from five to two.

Four of the court’s five judges – Chief Judge Maggie O’Brien and Associate Judges Yun-Da Tsai, Corrie Chase and Francheska Salazar – took part in the unanimous decision released Thursday.

“While we do not rule out some possible future apportionment scheme using class year (among other possible registration statuses) to organize Senate constituencies, we hold the apportionment scheme for First-Year Senators in the new Constitution exceeds the authority of the Student Association, as vested by the Board of Trustees via the Student Association Charter and governed by the University Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities,” the final judgment states.

First-year senators, who are chosen in the fall by senate vote, do not have voting rights in the senate in their first semester but can be converted to undergraduate-at-large and graduate-at-large senators, respectively, in a senator’s second semester in the body, according to the current SA constitution. Those senators can acquire voting rights in the at-large seats, the constitution states.

The appointment of first-year seats without a student body election “exceeds the authority” of the senate through violation of the SA’s charter, the judgment states. The appointment of these seats also violates “essential representational equality” as described in the Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities for the election of members into a governing, University-wide student government, the judgment states.

Witte, who served as the plaintiff, said he was “happy” to hear the Court’s decision and “thanks” the Court for their role as a check on the SA.

Jean Hyun, the SA vice president for judicial and legislative affairs and the defendant, did not return an immediate request for comment. Riham Yousif, the court’s registrar, declined to comment, deferring to the judgment.

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