Case brought against ASSU ROTC advisory bill

March 3, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL), filed a petition to bring a case against the ASSU with the Constitutional Council, which was approved this week. Constitutional Council case W2011-1, Vaid-Menon v. Cardona, will determine the constitutionality of a bill passed by the Undergraduate Senate to place an “advisory referendum” question on the spring elections ballot, which is intended to gauge student opinion regarding ROTC.

The Constitutional Council is the judicial branch of the ASSU, but Vaid-Menon’s case will be the first the body has heard in over one year. However, the Senate recently passed a bill redefining some of the roles of the Constitutional Council and of the solicitors general so that both can become more active bodies.

According to Constitutional Council Chair Samir Siddhanti ’12, before the Council’s Rules of Order were passed two weeks ago, “there was no framework for how to accept or try to a case.”

Siddhanti said that Vaid-Menon’s petition was filed late Sunday evening, and both parties were notified by Tuesday. He said that given the new rules, the five-member Council hopes to set a precedent by having a quick turnaround for trials.

“This is the very first trial we’ve gotten since the new group was brought in,” he said, “but that’s what we would like to do, especially given the time sensitive nature of this case.”

ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11 authored the bill to place an “advisory referendum” question on the general elections ballot asking student opinion on the potential for ROTC to return to campus. Both the Senate and the Graduate Student Council voted to pass the bill at the beginning of February.

At the time, Cardona said that Vaid-Menon was consulted on the drafting of the language of the bill so that it could be presented with “neutral language.” In an interview with The Daily, Vaid-Menon said that despite consultation, he was “frustrated by the passing of the bill.”

“In no way did I ever give my complete acceptance of this bill,” he said. “This is a way for me to address my concerns.”

For Vaid-Menon, asking for student opinion by voting on support for the ROTC issue is like “putting civil rights on the ballot box.”

Vaid-Menon and SSQL oppose the return of ROTC to Stanford because it does not allow transgender students to participate.

“It frames ROTC as a question and not as a policy,” he said. “The University is very firm in its non-discrimination policy, which includes gender identity. It seems generally silly to have a question that violates this University policy.”

Siddhanti said that the evidence required to prove constitutionality of an ASSU bill or action varies from case to case.

“Most of the arguments are [ASSU] constitutionally based, and the petitioner argues why or why not there’s a violation, and in some cases people can bring witnesses,” he said. “It’s pretty much anything allowed in real court.”

“There’s also a segment for friends of the court to be heard,” Siddhanti added. “We want to make the process much more transparent and open to the public.”

Cardona said that she was “not surprised” to hear about the case. She said that she recommended the Constitutional Council as an avenue for Vaid-Menon to explore when he initially voiced concerns over the bill.

“When I showed [Vaid-Menon] the original draft, he had concerns about the bill in and of itself,” Cardona said.

“Situations like this is why the Constitutional Council exists and so I think that the trial will be good and the process will be an educational one for everyone,” she added.

Vaid-Menon argues that it is the responsibility of the ASSU to uphold University policies in addition to its own, including the non-discrimination policy.

“There’s this rhetoric for its still okay for people to vote and have a say on civil rights of other people,” he said. “We need to consider the ethics of voting on this bill.”

Although Vaid-Menon filed the petition as an individual, he said that his effort to aid SSQL’s opposition to ROTC means that his actions can be interpreted as on behalf of the group.

“I think, from my perspective, the distinguishing factor that doesn’t make the bill unconstitutional is that it’s a non-binding referendum, equitable to other avenues of input that the ad hoc committee has welcomed,” Cardona said. “That’s definitely within my bounds as president to have proposed and I still support [the bill].”

“That being said, I do understand where [Vaid-Menon] is coming from and want to do everything I can to support and represent the transgender community as well.”

Both Vaid-Menon and Cardona recognize that ultimately, the decision to recognize ROTC will be made by the Faculty Senate after receiving the report from the ad hoc committee in May.

“I don’t see this as that big of a deal, to be honest, because at the end of the day, people understand that the students themselves aren’t making this decision,” Vaid-Menon said. “This is much more of a symbolic campaign, and it’s time for students to hold the University accountable.”

“I hope the rhetoric behind this case doesn’t dwindle down to ROTC: should it return or should it not, because that’s not what this case is about,” Cardona said. “The question this case is focusing on is whether or not posing an advisory question to the campus community is constitutional or not.”

The trial will be next Wednesday, March 9, at 8 p.m. and open to the public. The location has not yet been determined.

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