The Supreme Court of Student Governance issued its ruling today in Collier v. Sope, but it might not matter. It turns out that the Court can only make recommendations to the legislative branch, rather than rule on issues concerning student government at IUPUI. This came as a surprise to many students including the court itself.
The three questions the court decided on were:
1) Whether the basis of the sanction points assessed to the ticket of “Sope & Thompson” for campaigning violations in the proceedings of the USG Elections Committee is adequately provided for in the USG Election Code.
2) Whether there was a denial of speaking rights to the ticket of “Sope & Thompson” in the proceedings of the USG Elections committee.
3) Whether there was an inconsistent application of sanction points in regards to Section 608 of the USG Election Code in the proceedings of the USG Elections Committee.
The Court sided with the undergraduate student government elections committee on questions two and three, they found in favor of Sope and Thompson on question one. As a result of finding in Sope and Thompson’s favor for question one, the Court recommended vacating the sanction points against them, making Sope and Thompson the winners of the presidential elections.
Evidence and testimony by Michael Thompson during the appeals hearing seems to have won the day. During Thompson’s testimony he played a video of an IUPUI librarian stating that the library does not consider something a disruption until there has been a complaint filed. The librarian specifically noted that taking a picture was not inherently disruptive.
After the video finished playing, Thompson stated to the Court that no complaints had been filed in regards to the activity they were sanctioned for. Thompson then told the court that he did not believe that taking a picture was disruptive. His point was driven home when Thompson stated that he had just taken a picture with his phone while the hearing was happening and no one noticed. (I was within 10 feet of Thompson when he took this picture and no one had any idea it had happened.)
The Court agreed the elections committee had acted properly and in accordance with USG code when they denied Michael Thompson the right to speak at the elections committee hearing. Sope and Thompson failed to include both of their names on documents that would’ve allowed Thompson to speak at the hearing .The court ruled in favor of the committee due to the failure to follow procedure by Sope and Thompson.
When assessing whether the sanction points were properly applied the Court also found in favor of the elections committee. The Court ruled that the complaints against Sope and Thompson could be grouped together due to their similarities. The Court also noted that this helped to improve the efficiency of the hearings.
While Sope and Thompson appeared to benefit the most from the court’s decision today, they might not actually benefit at all. The Supreme Court was operating under the impression that it’s decision was final, but the USG announced today via Facebook that the legislative branch would need to vote to accept or reject the court’s “recommendation.”
Supreme Justice Eliut Justus said via email, “the Court believed that it was the final authority as to the question of the sanction points as delineated in Section 1001 of the Election Code. After looking at the language of the USG Constitution in Title IV, Section 401, sub-clause 9, it states that it should only be held as a recommendation.”
When asked about the legislative branch’s possibly rejecting the Court’s findings the Sope and Thompson campaign said, “The wording in the constitution should cause fear and worry to all undergraduate student because inevitably it means that senate holds all the power. As president/leaders of senate; Chaz and Jay holds all the card. That should scare students.”
The legislative branch voting on whether to accept or reject the Court’s recommendation also opens the door for interested parties to lobby the legislature to vote for or against the Court’s findings.
USG president DaSilva said via email that while it’s not the elections committee’s job to lobby the legislature in regards to the Court’s recommendations, “However as both an ex efficio member and a senator, respectively, we are able to express our opinions, as with any other member or student within the bounds of parliamentary procedure.”
Not only can the elections committee lobby the legislature to vote against accepting the court’s recommendations, so can Chaz Rhoutsong and Jay Johnson, the losing campaign ticket. “As Vice President, Chaz may express his personal opinion on any matters of the legislative branch if he so chooses. The President Pro-Tempore may do the same after yielding the presiding authority to another member,” DaSilva told The Campus Citizen.
“This just furthers my point that I made initially in the proceedings that the policies of all procedures and governing documents need to be fully examined, not only to look at vagueness and ambiguity that leads to contention down the road, but also at how policies seem to work against each other...when the Election Code states that the final authority is vested in the Supreme Court of Student Governance and the USG Constitution states that investment as a recommendation,” Justus said.
Justus added, “I have complete trust that The Senate will see it as a decision and not a recommendation, uphold it, and make sure to change the wording in the constitution to make sure this does not happen again.”
The Sope and Thompson campaign expressed doubt about the integrity of this process saying, “There are several conflicts of interest here that all students should know about.”