The All-Campus Judicial Council (ACJC) report had been absent from the Students’ Association (SA) Senate meeting agenda on Monday, Sept. 21, until its chief justice spoke up.
Wesline Manuelpillai, settling the mistake with Speaker of the Senate Ethan Bidna, began her report with an announcement: “As of today, at, I believe, 5:30 p.m., we received our first appeal in about five years.”
She was referring to an appeal filed to ACJC to overturn the Senate’s recent decision to fill a vacant seat via a selection committee. The seat was left empty in May, when SA Vice President and senior Melissa Holloway, elected as both a senator and the vice president in the spring elections, resigned the former position to ascend to the latter.
On Sept. 14, the Senate chose to select an applicant to fill the seat after discussing a list of avenues drafted by Manuelpillai and Senate Elections & Rules Committee Chair and junior Paul Jaquish, affirming a plan it had initially discussed in May. The body’s decision stemmed from a perceived lack of senior representation and what the Senate interpreted as nonadherence to the election rules of the SA Bylaws.
Both in May and in recent weeks, the Senate’s decision has spawned debates about constitutionality and discrepancies between SA’s Constitution and its bylaws. Officials within SA, including Manuelpillai, have questioned whether the selection committee mechanism violates the Constitution.
A constant point of conversation has been whether there was a “next eligible candidate” in the spring elections, who, according to the SA Bylaws, would automatically fill a vacancy. The Senate believed the answer to this question was “no,” since the Bylaws also require three senators to be elected from each upperclassman year—only three seniors ran in the spring. But, an alternative interpretation holds that the next highest vote-getter overall would constitute the “next eligible candidate.” The overall next highest vote-getter in the spring elections, sophomore Anmol Almast, said in a statement to the Campus Times last week that she found the Senate’s decision both wrong and unfair.
“It violates the student body’s rights to elect their own representatives,” she stated. “The Senate isn’t just allowed to pick someone to be a member. It’s a violation of the Constitution.”
After announcing that the appeal had been filed, Manuelpillai said that ACJC would hold a public hearing for the case and that further details would be publicized. In an email sent on Sept. 30, she was unable to speak in-depth about the appeal for the time being. “There are many things that need to be sorted out before we can disclose information publicly,” she added, including as an example that she had yet to meet with both the plaintiff and the defendant in the case. The identity of the plaintiff could not be confirmed at press time.
Manuelpillai’s report drew several questions from the senators seated before her, including one from Senator Natalie Ziegler, who asked, “Are we not proceeding forward with the selection committee?”
“It’s my best advice that you halt going forward with this,” Manuelpillai replied, before saying the decision ultimately rests in the hands of Bidna, who looked on. Asked for comment on the future of the committee and the appeal, Bidna said in an email the next day that he had not “received the details of the appeal, and therefore can provide no more information than the public minutes.”
Trombly is a member of the class of 2018.