Editor’s note : Technical difficulties delayed the posting of a more up-to-date account of last week’s actions in student senate. Updates have been added to this version of the story in bold. 12:45 p.m. Oct. 5
A dispute that started Tuesday night between student senators and student court came to a head Thursday when student body president Mike Scott and ASG advisers walked out of a special session.
After becoming frustrated with senate action, Scott issued an executive order which senators ignored. He then left senate and issued a second order, changing the code on the door to the office, freezing ASG’s accounts and ceasing the functioning of senate.
However, senate continued to hold the special session, voting to repeal a decision it made Tuesday night regarding a decision by student court.
The conflict began when student senators voted Tuesday night to nullify a student court ruling dealing with a contested senator election for the Heritage Commons senator seat.
Seniors Ian Vita and Lauren Miller both claimed the seat.
Vita followed the election process and was the only candidate registered for the seat with ASG, according to Jeff Puthoff, secretary for public relations. Puthoff said Vita won the seat according to ASG bylaws.
However, Puthoff said the RHA community council in Heritage Commons chose to have its own election, in which Miller was the victor.
ASG refused to recognize Miller, but she appealed to the student court in a hearing Sept. 25.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, student court found the Heritage Commons community council’s decision valid and constitutional, appointing Miller as the Heritage Commons senator.
Immediately after the ruling Tuesday night, ASG senators drafted a response and presented it to senate.
“There is no way we can fulfill those orders,” Thad Boggs, secretary for off-campus affairs, said. “If we were to conform with this ruling, we would be going against the spirit and the letter of all of our bylaws with the exception of two lines: to enforce the rulings of the student court and that student court decisions are final.”
Boggs said that if senate allowed Miller to become a senator, it would ignore all the bylaws regarding senator selection. On the other hand, if Vita got the seat, they would break bylaws regarding student court rulings.
“We can’t fulfill their orders in good conscience,” Puthoff said. “Technically, their ruling is final. In doing so, they put us in a paradox. Either way we break their ruling or our bylaws.”
According to Nathan Zwayer, who co-sponsored the bill nullifying the court ruling, the court’s decision did not refer to ASG bylaws or precedents.
“I don’t think they looked at our bylaws,” Courtney Cochran, vice president of the student body, said. “I’m not even sure they have copies of them.”
Several members rose questions regarding the proper relationship between the student court and senate.
Student Body President Mike Scott vehemently opposed the bill, emphasizing the long-term ramifications the decision would bring.
“By passing this tonight (Tuesday), (the bill’s authors) are trying to bamboozle you into believing that this is one single incident, but it is one incident that would set a very dangerous precedent,” Scott said. “We are saying to the court, you’ve made your decision, now enforce it.”
In a special meeting Thursday to discuss with senators the ramifications of the nullification, Student Court Chief Justice Jan Shanklin said the confusion started when Jack Trump, Heritage Commons residence hall adviser, failed to notify RHA before the deadline that he was holding his own election.
“Everybody admits, including Jack, that he was the weak link there,” Shanklin said. “The fact that the procedures weren’t followed in the first place and that this is a transition year, we decided an exception should be made.”
Shanklin said the senate’s actions could seriously affect future actions of the student court.
“The constitution says the decision of the student court shall be final,” Shanklin said. “The Nullification Act voided our decision and thus our decision is not final. If student court’s decisions are subject to legislation from senate, then it seems like we have no power at all and have no check on the senate’s power.”
At Thursday night’s special session of senate, an attempt to repeal the nullification failed, prompting Scott to issue an executive order voiding the senate’s decision from Tuesday.
Doug Haynes, president of the senate, refused to recognize the legitimacy of Scott’s executive order and suggested hearing the repeal at next Tuesday’s regular senate meeting.
It was at this point that Scott issued his second executive order of the evening.
“The budget of ASG shall be frozen, the office space made inaccessible, and ASG shall cease all operations until this constitutional crisis is removed,” Scott said before leaving the room.
ASG advisers Susan Mosley-Howard and Barbara Jones left with Scott.
“Your advisers are leaving because we no longer feel this is an efficient meeting,” Jones said.
Despite the sudden departure of Scott, the advisers and student court representatives in the room, ASG senate chose to continue operating.
“The senate, myself included, didn’t recognize Mike’s actions to end senate,” Haynes said.
During debate, several accused Scott of using fear tactics to scare senate into repealing the nullification act, even though Scott had accused authors of the original nullification act of using fear tactics to pass the original bill Tuesday.
Zwayer wanted the repeal of the nullification to fail to teach Scott a lesson.
“It upsets me that he would commit that hypocrisy,” Zwayer said. “Let him see what he’s actually done.”
Sophomore Senator Paul Struebing added, “We made a choice Tuesday that we believe is right. He’s an executive and he’s got to deal with the ramifications of his decisions, and I say let him deal with them.”
Haynes and John McNabb, vice president for student organizations, advised the senate to not act on emotion, ego or an attempt at revenge.
“There are other ways besides not passing legislation to show your disapproval,” Haynes said, as the word impeachment floated through the room.
Haynes later added, “(Impeachment) had to be, in the eyes of senators, postponed. It is not something to be taken lightly.”
Junior Thomas Flynn encouraged senate to consider repealing the nullification act for the benefit of ASG as a whole.
“The whole existence of ASG is based off of this (constitution),” Flynn said. “One rule for sure is the judicial branch always has the final say-so. To tell student court that we won’t listen would undermine the entire existence of ASG. “
President Pro Tempore Brendan Buholzer was unable to attend the special senate, but agreed with Flynn via a written statement read at the meeting.
“While the student senate’s concern is justifiable, it doesn’t give senate the power to interpret its own laws,” Buholzer said.
Although members raised concerns about several missing senators and questioned whether they could even make a vote as Scott froze all ASG operations, senate voted to repeal the nullification act with 18 for, 1 against and 14 abstentions, removing Vita from senate and replacing him with Miller.
Miller watched the proceedings throughout the evening and was disappointed with the apparent power struggle that unfolded among ASG branches.
“I had a terrible feeling sitting there tonight,” Miller said. “What happened to democracy and our system of checks and balances? I feel like that was all just thrown out the window tonight.”
Cochran called the events in ASG this week a “debacle” and suggested that ASG would have an uphill battle to fight.
“You will be scrutinized and taken down by members of the student body because of what you did,” Cochran said. “They’re not going to
see it as what Mike Scott did or what senate did, but as what ASG did. From this day forward, you have to be really careful that you do what is best for the student body.”
Scott said that ASG operations will be back to normal for Parent’s Weekend and that senators will be allowed back into the ASG office in Shriver.
Jones suggests that mediating between Shanklin, Scott, and Haynes will be the next step.
“I think that the three of them sitting down and talking about concerns is certainly the most appropriate way to go in terms of deciding where the boundaries are,” Jones said.
Although a bill modifying ASG bylaws regarding Student Court was next on the agenda, ASG chose to postpone discussing the proposed changes until next Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Scott said he hopes to schedule a mediation between himself, the student court justice and Doug Haynes, president of student senate.
After senate voted Thursday to repeal the nullification act, Scott said he would send out the new door codes to the office and senate would begin to function as usual. In a meeting Thursday with Haynes, The Student, and administrators, Scott said he opposed senate’s action Thursday because it did not recognize the constitution as the sovereign governing instrument of ASG. He said the court holds the sole authority to interpret the ASG constitution under Article 3.
Vita and Trump did not respond to e-mail requests sent Thursday night.
ASG’s constitution can be read online at http://www.muasg.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=99&Itemid=114.