Constitutional Council discusses giving voting power to Senator associates

Oct. 23, 2014, 8:17 p.m.

The Constitutional Case Finley v. Undergraduate Senate was heard by the ASSU Constitutional Council on Oct. 22 at Old Union. The Constitutional Council, chaired by Geo Saba ’15, heard the arguments of John Lancaster Finley ’16 and Senate Chair Ben Holston ’15, who was representing the Undergraduate Senate.

Four members of the Constitutional Council heard the case: Saba, Ireri Hernandez ’15, Jelani Munroe ’16 and Sona Sulakian ’16. This is the second case that this Constitutional Council has heard, the first being Stanford Anscombe Society v. Graduate Student Council in April 2014.

Finley filed the case to challenge the constitutionality of a bill passed in the Senate on Sept. 23 that gave Senate associates the power to vote in committees. Senate associates are appointed by the Senate and therefore not elected by the student body.

Senate associates are ex-officio members of the Senate, and the ASSU constitution bans ex-officio members from voting in Senate decisions. Finley claimed that giving Senate associates the power to vote in committees violates the constitution. In rebuttal, Holston, representing the Senate, argued that the constitution refers only to official votes on the Senate floor, and not votes regarding recommendations that committees make to the Senate.

“Representative authority is granted to members of the Senate through direct election by the students themselves,” Lancaster said in his rebuttal to Holston’s opening argument. “Only the student body itself may grant representative authority to any individual.”

“We wouldn’t have ex-officio members if we didn’t want them to influence decisions or to make their opinions heard. That is what the spirit of the Constitution is here,” Holston responded. “It’s not that (ex-officio members) shouldn’t be involved, it’s that they shouldn’t be the ones to make the decision.”

The crux of the issue is whether giving Senate associates the ability to vote in committees gives them representative authority that the constitution prohibited. Holston also argued that striking down the bill would negatively impact the Senate’s ability to use the by-laws to clarify the constitution.

The council has three days to make its decision. Finley said he thinks the decision will likely be in his favor, as he went to the council for direction after the bill was passed and the council encouraged him to file the case.

The author of the bill, Senator Luka Fatuesi ’17, was not in attendance.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Daily incorrectly referred to ASSU Constitution as the Senate Constitution. There is only one constitution for all of ASSU.  The Daily regrets this error. The post has also been updated to reflect this fact. 

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