SA executive office files complaint with Student Court on first-year senate seats

The Student Association Office of the Legislator General filed a complaint with the Student Court Friday, aiming to prevent a referendum that could bring back first-year seats to the SA Senate.

SA Legislator General Holden Fitzgerald and assistant legislator generals Juan Carlos Mora and Andrew Harding filed the complaint opposing the First-Year Senators Act, a special resolution the senate passed Monday to propose students establish first-year senator elections via a referendum. The complaint states that the special resolution violates SA governing documents by granting freshmen, first-year graduate students and first-year transfer students more representation than other students.

If approved, the referendum would have students vote in elections for first-year senators each fall. SA President Brandon Hill said at the meeting that he opposed the resolution and was prepared to seek the Student Court’s opinion.

The complaint states that the resolution violates the “essential representational equality” requirement in the University’s Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. The plaintiffs argue that the special resolution lets the senate to grant more representation to any “political group” it wishes, allowing first-year students to be represented by both class-specific seats and school-specific seats.

“The Special Resolution amendment gives first-year students double representation by the proposed First-Year At-Large Senators and School Senators, while non-first-year students will be denied class-year representation,” the complaint reads. “It is imperative that this referendum not go forward due to this flagrant violation of the SSRR.”

The SA’s previous constitution, which was nullified in May when the body’s updated constitution went into effect, provided for the senate to appoint first-year undergraduate and graduate senators. These senate seats were converted to at-large seats after the senators served a full semester in the SA.

The court struck down all first-year undergraduate and graduate seats last year, stating that the appointing of first-year students to the seats violates the “essential representational equality” requirement of the student rights and responsibilities statement. The judgement did not rule out future apportionment methods using class year but said the senate “exceeded its authority” by appointing first-year students without an election.

The complaint states that the defendants attempted to address the issue of first-year overrepresentation by including a clause in the resolution explicitly stating that non-first-year senators do not represent first-year students and first-year senators do not represent non-first-year students. The plaintiffs allege that this statement fails to address the constitutional issue because students are automatically assigned to a school upon entering GW.

Harding, one of assistant legislator generals, said in a statement on behalf of the legislator general office that they “thoroughly” reviewed the first-year resolution before deciding to move forward with legal proceedings. He said the plaintiffs want to ensure “equal” and “fair” representation for all students through the complaint.

“Any effort to correct injustices of inequitable representation must be well warranted and within governing doctrines to ensure prospective questions of legality are mitigated,” the statement reads. “The OLG is committed to continuing its advocacy for equal representation.”

The complaint names SA Vice President Kate Carpenter, Sen. Cordelia Scales, SEAS-U and senate chairperson pro-tempore, and Sen. Chris Pino, CCAS-U and the sponsor of the special resolution, as defendants of the complaint.

Carpenter and Pino did not immediately return requests for comment. Scales declined to comment.

The plaintiffs also filed a motion to stop the SA from forming a special elections commission to set a date for the referendum and from sending the referendum to students. The plaintiffs urged the court to accept their injunction and expedite their request given the urgency of the potential fall election schedule.

The complaint also contends that if the court were to invalidate the first-year resolution, justices should review the validity of the Proportional Representation Act and the Fall Senate Elections Act, which the senate also passed Monday.

The proportional representation resolution would send a referendum to students on the question of creating separate at-large undergraduate and graduate senate positions for the Milken Institute School of Public Health, School of Nursing, School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the College of Professional Studies. The senate elections act would update the SA’s bylaws to be in compliance with the first-year senators act if the student body approves that referendum.

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