Senators debate whether to give the Judicial Branch the power of impeachment and face allegations of misconduct and discrimination by an unappointed Judicial Branch candidate.
Members of ASUCR unanimously approved a revised Elections Code bylaw on Oct. 22 in an attempt to mitigate a potential conflict of interest between the Judicial and Legislative Branches. The Judicial Branch is also seeking to enact a Ten Strikes Penal System, which will provide them with the ability to impeach senators for any future negligence, but the system may also impede powers vested to other branches. Lastly, senators also approved four out of the five nominated justices, but were later scolded by the only unappointed candidate, Mohamed Hussein, for not electing him.
Dilemma surrounding potential justices running for office
In a 15-minute presentation, Elections Director Chris Sanchez proposed five different scenarios for approving the justices, while identifying the flaws associated with each plan. Senators also approved revisions to the Elections Code located in the ASUCR Bylaws, in order to deter justices from using their powers to run in future elections.
The senate bylaws establish a separation of power between the Judicial Rules of Procedure and the ASUCR Constitution and Bylaws, which does not have jurisdiction over the former. According to the rules, justices are given the ultimate authority to review complaints and claims of constitutional or bylaw violations about any body or office in ASUCR, including the Elections Committee — the area in dispute.
“No member of the ASUCR Judicial Council may hold a position in; (IV) The Election Committee. (V) Candidates in ASUCR Elections,” reads the Judicial rules. Under the Grounds for Removal subsection, justices may also be asked to step down if they are found guilty of campaigning in ASUCR elections.
Since the Judicial Branch is given the authority to review elections cases, Sanchez explained that there is an increased level of uncertainty if a justice decides to step down to run in an election, they may hold a biased judgment in the elections cases that they are reviewing.
Sanchez explained of a hypothetical “apocalyptic” situation, where justices are able to meet quorum — attendance of four out of six justices — giving them the power to edit the election rules and allow themselves to run for senatorial office, if they chose to. He listed the aforementioned case as an extreme scenario, if the justices were ratified under conflicting conditions which would potentially give them an unfair advantage in the ASUCR elections.
Penalty system leaves Elections Code vulnerable to abuse
Approved Vice Chief Justice Matthew Richardson presented the idea of a “Ten Strikes Penal System” during Special Reports. Under the system, justices would subject a senator to ‘penalty points,’ if they fail to fulfill their duties. For instance, this would include unexcused absences which may result in a senator’s appropriation of “two points” — one point for the absence and another for not providing an excuse.
In an interview with the Highlander, Sanchez also offered further clarification about the penalty system. “If you get seven strikes in one quarter, you lose your voting power … and you lose your stipend for the rest of the quarter,” he said.
President Pro Tempore Aaron Johnson says the 10-strikes system still needs to pass through the Legislative Review Committee (LRC) before being presented to the senate for final approval.
During his presentation, Sanchez also raised the concern that justices who were interested in running for future ASUCR elections may seek to abuse the penalty system by severely penalizing current senators — who may seek re-election — from opposing political parties.
“The Judicial Branch has jurisdiction to review elections cases. However, in my opinion, because they can edit the rules whenever they want, there’s no guarantee that a judicial member may not run in the general elections,” said Sanchez. “That means there is a possibility of bias in an elections case.”
To offset potential abuses, the senators unanimously voted to include a revision in the ASUCR Elections Code, which reads, “No member of the Judicial Branch shall be allowed to run in a general election in the two years in which they serve as a member of the Judicial Branch.”
The changes also permit the Elections Director to prevent a justice from resigning, in order to run in an ASUCR election. “(Elections Director may) use his/her discretion in determining solutions for matters that are not included here,” reads the presentation.
Justices vow to work out the “gray areas” of obtaining points
Further elaborating on the penalty system, Richardson also stated that Sanchez’s apocalyptic scenario was impossible and explained, “(The justices) do not have the power to impeach and we do not have the power to censure.” He expressed that the Judicial Branch hopes to one day integrate the penalty system into their bylaws.
“We will adhere to your story, what is going on … the only thing that’s automatic is if you’re absent, then you get a strike. The only discrepancy is if there are excuses,” Richardson said, explaining that family emergencies and academic obligations are exceptions to the absences. But the justices plan to enforce the system, if approved, on a case-by-case basis. He also reported that senatorial strikes would not usually be disclosed to the public.
Other gray areas in the penalty system also revolved around the ability for Executive Vice President Armando Saldana to censure or impeach senators who fail to carry out their duties.
“A lot of these rules that the judicial branch brought out are very conflicting to my position because I censure (and) there’s some attendance policy bylaws, as well as … a senator bylaw coming up,” expressed Saldana.
Johnson reported that according to ASUCR bylaws, only the senate has the power to censure an individual through a two-thirds majority. “(The) edits the judicial branch has proposed … is of course to include the Judicial (Branch) and to give them (the ability) to trump Senate’s powers,” he said. “For example, if they make a censure, then that goes over (the senate’s) power to censure.”
Unappointed Justice storms out of Senate Chambers
The senate unanimously approved the appointments of Matthew Richardson as Vice Chief Justice, along with Melina Reyes, Michael Deo and Taylor Fujimoto as justices in a closed-ballot vote, which Johnson explained was procedural.
However, contentions later arose when the only unapproved judicial candidate, Mohamed Hussein, admonished the senate for deciding against his appointment, leaving one unfilled spot on the Judicial Branch.
“I’m not a hostile person at all … but tonight, I experienced the most disrespect I ever experienced in my whole life … As far as UCSA Congress went, I was a model delegate for UCR,” said Hussein. “So my actions during the night … to affect any sort of ratification is completely unfair, because there were people in this room who were drunk as shit during the night of UCSA.”
Before making his exit from the meeting, Hussein said, “So no hostility or anything. To the four of you who didn’t vote for me and the two who abstained, screw you.”
In an email correspondence with the Highlander, Senator Abraham Galvan expressed sympathy toward Hussein’s cause.
“It is understandable that the un-appointed judicial candidate would be frustrated and emotional following the Senate’s decision, so in that sense, I was sympathetic to how Mohammad felt,” said Galvan. “However, I was definitely put aback by some of the comments that he made. Particularly, I disagree with his comments that many of us in ASUCR were irresponsible during Congress, as I attended Congress and witnessed an amazing UCR delegation.”
During the senate meeting, ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs and UCSA President Kareem Aref also reiterated the professionalism of UCR’s delegation during the systemwide conference.
“More for the reason that UCSA Congress was brought up, I just wanted to repeat what I said in my last report … Our delegates were immensely professional … we are as in all of our conference, and at no point was no one out of control or ‘drunk as shit’ to use the term that was used,” Aref expressed. “That’s a tradition that I hold very very close to my heart and we continue to do that throughout the conferences.”
While senators such as Fernando Echeverria expressed that the final decision, yet split, was made democratically.
“I do not know what led people to vote the way they did, but I do hope it was a holistic assessment of his person not just using the opinion of one Senator (sic) to base their judgement,” Echeverria expressed.