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Ex Parte O’Keefe: Decision

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Ex Parte O’Keefe

SC 004 (Fall 2010)

Patrick O’Keefe

Petitioner

Altanese Phenelus, Executive Branch

Amicus Curiae Brief


[October 15, 2010]

MR. ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE MELLA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In our ever-changing technologically driven society, laws many times fail to keep up with a multitude of modern day advances. The courts are commonly tasked with interpreting how to approach these issues. Today this Court faces a similar situation. As the option of taking online courses becomes more popular among the student body, the question is raised if these courses satisfy the FIU constitutional requirement of campus affiliation for SGA officials.

Article V Section 5 Subsection A (1); grants the FIU Supreme Court the power to “interpret any provision of constitutions, and statutes within the sovereignty of SGA.” Mr. O’Keefe asks the Court to use this power to interpret Article VII Section 2 Subsection E, which states each SGA official shall “Be registered, during Fall and Spring semesters, for no less than fifty (50) percent of his/her classes at the campus he/she represents.” Mr. O’Keefe questions how the Constitution should be applied when it comes to the qualifications of SGA officials based on their online courses.

The question in this case stems down to FIU’s dual student government council system. This system inspired a clause in the FIU Constitution that requires no less than fifty percent of an SGA Officials classes to be taken at the campus they represent. The question the Court must answer is whether online classes can be affiliated with a particular campus.

The Court encountered a number of explanations on how to determine which campus an online course corresponds to. They included by the particular college, major, or even the course itself. We found each of these systems of categorizing online courses can present a number of problems. For example the College of Arts and Sciences has courses in both campuses. This same problem occurs with certain majors as well as the particular courses themselves.

We therefore find that there is currently no system in place to systematically distinguish online courses by their campus affiliation. This leads us to conclude that individuals registered for more than fifty percent of their courses online, do not meet Article VII Section 2 Subsection E of the FIU Constitution. We ultimately believe this ruling guarantees that SGC officials will have a certain degree of proximity to the students who they represent in their particular campus.

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Student Body v Senate: Decision

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Student Body v Senate

SC 003 (Fall 2010)

Altanese Phenelus, Attorney General

Petitioner

William-Jose Velez Gonzalez, Speaker

Hector D Mujica, Speaker Pro-Tempore

Daniel Gonzalez, Internal Affairs Committee Chair

Respondent

[October 1, 2010]

MR. ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE MELLA delivered the opinion of the Court.

On August 30, 2010, the Florida International University Modesto A Maidique Campus Senate voted to have individual hearings on four members of the Executive Branch. These members included SGC-MMC Director of External Relations Andrea Alhadari, SGC-MMC Comptroller Maria-Rosa Blanco, SGC-MMC Chief Information Officer Julio Yanes, and SGC-MMC Director of Campus Life Alex Lastra. The Senate derived their power to hold these hearings from the SGC-MMC Statutes Article III, Section 3.07 (a & b). The question before us is whether the Senate has the power to hold hearings on non-cabinet members of the Executive Branch. Pending the outcome of this case, an injunction was placed on the hearing of Comptroller Maria-Rosa Blanco, which was to be held on September 27, 2010.

The petitioner charges the SGC-MMC Senate “with misfeasance for the misuse of their legal authority to question only particular members of the Executive,” arguing that SGC-MMC Statutes Article III, Section 3.07 (a) specifically say “The Senate has the right to hold hearing on individual members of the Cabinet and the Governing Councils.” Additionally, the SGA Constitution Article IV Section 2 states, “ The Executive Branch shall be composed of a President, Vice President, Comptroller, Executive Cabinet, and Elections Board.” The petitioner claims this makes a distinction between Cabinet and the Comptroller, therefore not giving the Senate the power to hold a hearing on the Comptroller.

The respondent questions the legality of the grievance, claiming it is in violation of Article VI of the SGA Constitution, granting the accused due process. Furthermore, the respondent claims that SGC-MMC Statutes Article III Section 3.07 (b) allows for the Senate “to hold a hearing on a particular individual or groups of individuals that are part of the Executive Branch.” Although subsection (a) of the above statute specifically says “cabinet or governing council” the respondent argues this “would constitute selectively choosing which part of the Statutes to follow, to make a decision.”

The Court finds the arguments raised by the respondent unpersuasive. In claiming the Court failed to provide the respondent due process, we disagree. The respondent was fully informed of the charges and hearing process. SGC-MMC Statutes Article XIII Section 13.01, provides the steps needed to ensure the due process of a “charged student.” As a body of government the statutes do not afford the Senate the same rights. Additionally, we again disagree with the respondent’s argument that the petitioner is selectively choosing which statutes to follow. The statute that is most specific takes supremacy, as the vagueness of the language may vary throughout certain articles in the SGC-MMC Statutes. Finally, a grievance being filed against the Senate would not by any means be “removing a branch of government.” The Court reserves the right to censure any act of the Senate it deems unconstitutional or in violation of the SGC-MMC Statutes.

That being said, our main concern in this case is the selection of the Comptroller, which is currently appointed by the President and Vice-president. We question what in fact constitutes an Executive Cabinet position. The SGA Constitution Article IV Section 2 Subsection D, indicates “The Executive Cabinet shall: 1. Assist the executive leadership” and “2. Be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.” Currently the Comptroller, a non-cabinet position, is in accordance with both these duties. Furthermore, in a cabinet application submitted into evidence by the respondent, we find the Comptroller is listed as one of the cabinet positions. In that application under the description of said position it states “The Comptroller answers to the Student Body President.” As it is now, we find substance in the petitioner’s argument that the Comptroller is not a cabinet position. This leads us to question why it is being treated as one.

We therefore unanimously conclude that although the Comptroller is not an Executive Cabinet position, it is being treated as such. Since the Student Body is not electing the Comptroller, the Senate, as representatives of the Student Body and having confirmed the individual, should have the ability to bring before them the Comptroller for questioning. Exempting the Comptroller from Senate questioning would ultimately create the only position in the Executive Branch that would not be accountable to the Student Body through direct election or indirectly by Senate oversight. At the present time we find no distinction between the Comptroller and a Cabinet position. Therefore we rule in favor of the respondent.

Mujica v. Student Elections Board: Decision

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

April 2, 2010

Mujica vs. Elections Board

Constitutional Question– did the elections board enact unconstitutional guidelines?

The case heard by the Judicial Branch in regards to grievance filed on March 18th, 2010 constituted the following:

Were the supplemental guidelines enacted by the elections board in violation of individuals’ and organizations’ right to free speech?

“i. Each candidate is only allowed to campaign for him/herself and therefore not  verbally endorse any other candidate during campaign week.

ii. Candidates should notify those campaigning for them that they are not allowed to campaign for more than one candidate simultaneously. This will prohibit someone to wear a specific candidate’s shirt and yet pass out another candidate’s flyer, among other situations”

Court decision

In a 3-0 decision, the court ruled that the elections board did indeed violate individuals’ right to free speech and free assembly as granted under the US constitution. The reasoning of the court was that by restricting a candidate’s endorsement of any other candidates during campaign week, the board’s supplemental guidelines prohibits a student’s innate ability to voice his/her opinions as granted by the first Amendment.  According to section 4, subsection C of the current constitution, “the Supreme Court must negate and remove existing Student Government Statutes, Appropriations, Law, Joint Resolution, Executive Order, and/or Senatorial policy that conflicts with any Federal, state, local law and/or ordinance or University regulation.”

The second clause of the supplemental guidelines is an attempt to prohibit an individual’s right to free assembly.  The guidelines, by threat of sanction, prohibit how volunteers may behave while representing their respective candidates.  Whom deserves to be sanctioned, however, is ambiguous.  Because volunteers are under no jurisdiction of SGA, it seems to follow that candidates would be the ones penalized. The court felt that because those working on a candidate’s campaign are specifically volunteers, it is unsound to sanction candidate’s based on actions over which they have no control.

Badger v. Student Democracy Act 2010: Decision

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment
March 3, 2010
DECISION LETTER

I. Based on Article VI of the Constitution the Judiciary shall interpret any provision of the constitution and governing council’s constitutions and/or any law upon written.
II. On February 19th 2010 a grievance was submitted to the Judiciary questioning the constitutionality of a provision of the Student Democracy Act of 2010 section 7.14, subsection (a), Part (xvi).
“Having been impeached previously from Student Government Office.”
III. Opinion of the Court: In a 3-1 decision the court has ruled the Student Democracy Act Of 2010 section 7.15 subsection (a), part (xvi) unconstitutional. The court based its decision on the writing of the legislation in its current form. This legislation, as written, removes the notion of due process for any individual impeached from running in Student Government Elections. The primary problem was that the current language is directed towards the impeachment process, and not the removal of a member which is the legislation’s intent not its language. It is possible for someone in SGA to be impeached but that does not ensure conviction or removal of a member (as removal is a specific power granted only to the Judiciary). The current legislation would ban the impeached member from participating in SGA elections (as under the Student Democracy Act of 2010 would be a disqualifiable offense). Under the current writing of the law, a Senator can be impeached, successfully defend themselves and still be banned from participating in elections which would be a violation of that student’s right to due process. The court cannot judge on the intent of the law when the actual writing of the law can be easily misinterpreted.
VI. THEREFORE: Provision Section 7.14, subsection (a), Part (xvi) is ruled unconstitutional and must be removed from the Student Democracy Act of 2010. The Senate has the opportunity to make the necessary changes to the law for it to pass constitutional muster if it more specifically spells out its intent in the language of the legislation.