The Stanford College Republicans (SCR) will receive funding from the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) for their Feb. 17 event with former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The Associated Students of Stanford University’s (ASSU) Constitutional Council ruled Tuesday night that a previous vote by the Senate actually approved SCR’s request for funding. The Council did not rule in favor of either party, but rather clarified a decision already made by UGS in their second vote on SCR’s funding request.
During UGS’s second vote, 5 senators voted in favor and 8 abstained, which UGS interpreted as the vote not passing.
“By definition, a simple majority means a majority of those members present and voting,” said Sherwin Lai ’24, chair of the Constitutional Council, explaining the clarification of UGS’ vote. “Since abstentions are not votes, only yeses and noes count toward the denominator used to determine the requisite affirmative votes needed for passage.”
Councilmembers said their verdict therefore meant that SCR was entitled to the $6,000 requested in their standard grant. Because the grant was already approved, the Council did not rule on the other arguments brought forth by SCR since they were dependent on UGS’ decision to reject the request. These arguments included claims of viewpoint discrimination and multiple violations of the ASSU Constitution.
The Council held an official hearing on Jan. 19 where representatives for SCR and UGS both made their case.
The Constitutional Council, which consists of Lai and councilmembers fourth-year applied physics Ph.D student Viktor Krapivin, fifth-year management science and engineering Ph.D student Lodewijk Gelauff and Avi Gupta ’23, presided over the case. Kimo Gandall, former chairman of the California College Republicans, represented SCR, the petitioner in this case. Houston Taylor ’24, a member of the Stanford Mock Trial team, represented UGS, the respondent.
The trial began with the Council’s unanimous approval of the presented stipulations, which confirmed facts presented in SCR’s petition. The stipulations outlined the sequence of events surrounding SCR’s funding request and were agreed upon by both parties.
According to SCR’s argument during the trial, UGS practiced viewpoint discrimination against the group’s conservative identity when declining the request. SCR also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the vote, including if an ASSU requirement for a 24-hour minimum public disclosure of meetings was met by senators.
UGS acknowledged in the stipulations that there was confusion around quorum rules but contended that other concerns, like the 24-hour notice, were not significant enough to warrant voiding the vote. Taylor, on behalf of UGS, further argued that there was not evidence of viewpoint discrimination.
Gandall started by presenting his first witness, Stephen Sills ’22, SCR’s financial officer. Sills said it came as a surprise to SCR when the grant was initially rejected in a closed session vote in a private Slack channel.
“I emailed the appropriations chair for more reasons behind why our grant was rejected and I wasn’t given an exact answer,” Sills said.
Sills also compared the SCR event to similarly planned events for the quarter and argued that the ASSU treated SCR’s request differently from those of other groups.
SCR co-president Sarah Olmstead followed Sills with testimony regarding a Nutcracker event hosted by the Stanford Ballet Company on Dec. 4. The venue for the event, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, was the same as the proposed venue for the Pence event. Olmstead said this displayed the unfairness of the rejection of the standard grant due to the violation of COVID-19 policies during the Nutcracker event.
“None of the performers had masks on of the 20 plus that were there. They danced through the aisles at the beginning of the show,” Olmstead said. “A lot of the audience members were eating and drinking, and it was open seating so no one was socially distanced.”
Taylor responded to Olmstead, saying that performers and attendees were compliant with the University’s vaccination and weekly testing requirements, and as such were not at risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Gandall, in his last piece of evidence, also presented clips from UGS meeting on Dec. 7, during which the Senate publicly deliberated and re-voted on SCR’s funding request. Within the clips, senators voiced their stances on the role of personal and moral values in their vote.
“[I think that] there are personal fundamental values to me, as a person, that got me elected to the Senate that are contradictory to voting in favor of this funding,” said Alain Pérez ’23, co-chair of UGS, at the Dec. 7 meeting.
“We’re allowed to make moral judgments if we want to,” said Senator Amira Dehmani ’24 at the meeting. “Not saying that’s what everyone is doing, but as a senator, as an individual human being, you’re allowed to weigh your options both technically and morally, so if you’re against the individual speaker you’re allowed to vote in that way.”
Gandall contended in his closing argument that the clips reflected the Senate’s discrimination against SCR. As student representatives, Senators were obligated to vote based on whether the request for funding met their requirements as opposed to moral objections to the speaker, Gandall argued.
“The Senate has run afoul with basic constitutional rules and norms in several ways,” Gandall said at the start of his closing argument. “On viewpoint discrimination, there are several obvious facts that point to it that we provided a mountain of evidence for.”
Taylor countered Gandall’s claims in her closing argument, arguing that political bias was not present within UGS’ decision-making process. Taylor argued that political versus moral considerations should be viewed in a different light, with the latter not constituting viewpoint discrimination.
“For the petitioner to be able to claim viewpoint discrimination, they have to show evidence of that discrimination,” Taylor remarked. “So far, the evidence that they have is senators’ moral disagreements for the speaker that they have chosen to bring onto campus.”
In regards to the other violations presented by SCR, Lai said they fell outside the Council’s domain.
“[The Council] ‘adjudicates all cases where the constitutionality of an act is called into question’… and… declare[s] unconstitutional acts ‘null and void,’” he said.