Letter to the editor:
I am not here to discuss the decision made in the Clerk vs. OSU Divest (2015) decision. I actually recused myself from the case in accordance with the USG Constitution Article 3, Section D, Subsection 1, Clause d, because my father works for one of the six companies OSU Divest is trying to “divest” from. I felt that would cause me to render an impartial decision, so I took myself off the case.
I am here, rather, to discuss the controversy surrounding the Judicial Panel and its actions with the bylaws and the consequences of its decision in Clerk vs. OSU Divest.
On Feb. 17, the Judicial Panel came to the decision to amend the bylaws (Article 1, Section B, Subsection 5, clause f) to give OSU Divest a better chance of being able to be put on the ballot. According to the bylaws, they would have needed 51 percent of last year’s vote by Feb. 20 to be able to be put on the ballot. After much discussion, it was decided that last year’s turnout, which was the highest in 42 years, was unfair toward the initiative. We lowered the signature count to 26 percent of last year’s vote and allowed the group until Feb. 25 to submit it. We were acting unilaterally in amending the bylaws. We did so in accordance with the Constitution.
In the Constitution, Article 3, Section A, Subsection 6 states, “The Judicial Panel shall have sole jurisdiction of amending the Undergraduate Student Government Elections Bylaws and Procedures.” While Article 3, Section C, Subsection 2 gives us the power to maintain the bylaws, it also states in Clause c, “the General Assembly may suggest changes, but may not amend the Undergraduate Student Government Elections Bylaws.”
Despite popular belief, we interpreted this to mean that we have sole authority over amending the bylaws as we see fit. It is true that Clause a states, “At the beginning of every General Assembly term, the Chief Justice shall submit the Undergraduate Student Government Elections Bylaws to the General Assembly in the form of legislation,” and Clause b states, “Approval requires a simple majority of members of General Assembly present.” We have interpreted from this that these can only apply to the initial amending of the bylaws at the beginning of the year. This would give the JP the sole authority to amend the bylaws as necessary at any time afterward. The fact still remains that we did nothing unconstitutional in amending the bylaws.
Recently, there has been some criticism over the Clerk of Courts serving as the Plaintiff in the Clerk vs. OSU Divest case. It has been called a conflict of interest because he is a member of the JP. One of the responsibilities of the Clerk is to serve as a plaintiff when: 1) He files a brief against a campaign or initiative, or 2) Somebody files an anonymous brief. This has precedent, established in the decision Clerk vs. Celia Wright (2014). It was decided in the case that the Judicial Panel had implied investigated powers and the Clerk would act as the investigator and Plaintiff in these cases. This is a necessary power that the JP uses to properly enforce the Constitution and the bylaws.
Every year, campaigns wrangle against each other. Occasionally, they break bylaws. In the past, this has caused slates to be cautious when filing against other slates in fear of a countersuit. With the Clerk, we can have an impartial Plaintiff who can help fairly enforce the Bylaws. Removing the power of the Clerk would only allow slates to continue to break the bylaws with a weak check from the JP. If the JP is expected to fairly enforce the Bylaws, we need the Clerk of Courts to be allowed to keep his powers.
Finally, on March 9, USG President Celia Wright and Vice President Leah Lacure wrote a letter to the student body apologizing for the actions of the JP. This has been their first and only public statement regarding OSU Divest and the Judicial Panel. While many of the points are valid, they overstep their power by filing for an impeachment of the Chief Justice. In their letter, they did not say what they are impeaching him for, but just that there are a few violations.
I can only assume they want to remove him from power for the inefficiency of the JP and for the “unconstitutional” amending of the bylaws. This is an unjust impeachment with no grounds. While the JP could have acted faster with OSU Divest, going through more than 3,000 signatures takes an exorbitant time. Plus, with the extension given to them, we had less time to check them anyway.
The signature of the circulator is something so trivial that it was only discovered by a second look at the petition. Every candidate on the ballot did it. It is something we missed because it has not been a problem before. We did realize our mistake and followed the Constitution and bylaws accordingly.
The precedent being set here is deplorable. What Wright and Lacure are setting here is not democracy, but a form of bullying and censorship. The Judicial Panel released a decision that was unpopular by a vocal minority, and their response is to impeach the Chief Justice. Does this mean every time somebody is upset with a decision, we are just going to get rid the Chief Justice? That is not justice, that is not fair, that is an abuse of power. This would require the JP to only issue favorable opinions in fear of getting impeached by the General Assembly and the president and vice president. We cannot allow that to happen. That is the true limiting of free speech and justice.
The JP has not acted in way that was unconstitutional. We have acted within the power given to us in the Constitution and bylaws. The assumption that we have acting improperly is completely unfounded. Personally, I do feel bad that OSU Divest was kicked off the ballot. I was looking forward to the debate on this issue. All I can say to them is next year, please try again and please attend the information sessions. We have four information sessions where we go over all of the bylaws relating to the election. I hope that the JP and the Chief Justice can be afforded the respect derived from the office.
Author’s note: This is the opinion of one member of the JP. I do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire JP.
Associate justice, USG Judicial Panel
Second-year in economics