Student Court formally invalidates first-year senate seats after extended debate

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Senior Photo Editor

The court ruled that the Office of the Legislator General is expected to have “allegiance” to the executive branch over other branches because the office serves at the “pleasure of the president.”

The Student Court issued its final judgement invalidating first-year Student Association Senate seats Thursday, sealing a six-week debate on the issue.

The SA Office of the Legislator General filed a complaint in September opposing the senate’s approval of a fall referendum asking the student body whether the SA should amend its constitution to designate senate seats for first-year students. Associate Justice Zamin Raza, a second-year law student and author of the unanimous decision, said in the decision that first-year students are automatically represented by their school-specific senator so they would be represented twice if senate seats were reapportioned.

The court issued a preliminary judgement striking down first-year senate elections shortly after holding a hearing last month. Raza said the court ruled that first-year senate seats were “inconsistent” with the “essential representational equality” requirement outlined in the University Statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities.

“Senators are elected at-large from their respective school-degree divisions, with no distinction as to class year, with the expectation that they will represent these school-degree-specific interests in the debates and legislative process that occur in the deliberative body of their University-wide student government,” the judgement reads.

The court also struck down the Fall Senate Elections Act, which would have codified the referendum into the SA’s bylaws if approved by the student body.

Raza said apportioned seats are not limited to school-degree constituencies under the SA constitution, but they must comply with the SRR Statement. He said the SA must ensure that any new proposed apportionment methods must not be “inferior” to the current method because changing the apportionment scheme would influence the decision making of the SA governing bodies.

“Double-counting would therefore still occur under the proposed scheme: first-year students being subject to the experience of being a first-year student and a student affiliated with a particular school-degree, would effectively still have two types of Senators to address their issues,” the judgment reads.

With a 5-1 vote, the court also upheld a resolution challenged in the complaint that scheduled a referendum on proportional representation, which, if passed, would divide at-large senate seats for the Milken Institute School of Public Health, School of Nursing, School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the College of Professional Studies into separate undergraduate and graduate positions. The court invalidated a section of the resolution that would have solved procedural issues to move the process along faster if both the first-year and proportional representation referenda had passed.

Associate Justice Devin Eager, a second-year law student and the lone opposer of the decision, said in his dissent that the court should either validate or invalidate the entire law instead of striking individual sections of the bill. He said he has issues with the “severability” of the majority decision, which invalidated individual sections of the bill instead of the entire legislation.

The court also declared in the ruling that the legislator general’s office is expected to have “allegiance” to the executive branch over other branches in lawsuits because the office serves at the “pleasure of the president.” But in other cases when the executive branch has no role in an ongoing lawsuit, the legislator general can represent any SA member or branch, the judgement states.

SA Sen. Chris Pino, CCAS-U and the primary defendant in the lawsuit, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint last month, citing that the legislator general’s office was working exclusively on behalf of the executive branch against another branch, creating a conflict of interest. The plaintiffs said in their argument that the office serves under the executive, so there should be no conflict.

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