OPINION: Dear ASB: This is not House of Cards

Posted on Apr 18 2019 - 5:12am by Levi Bevis

Student government is always an exciting institution where it seems new challenges and dramas unfold each day. On Thursday, April 4, our campus experienced one such moment.

On this semester’s election day, the ASB Judicial Council found that an error had been made by the Elections Commission and interim attorney general regarding a vice presidential candidate in the runoff election. The Judicial Council explained its reasoning for reversing the Elections Commission’s decision in a report released soon afterward. This report, which called for a new election to be held on Tuesday, April 9, was largely controversial, and rightly so.

The controversy surrounding this report, however, should not be so much about the findings. It should focus on the steps taken by the Judicial Council to “remedy” the error.

The Judicial Council alone does not have the authority to call for a new election, nor does it have the authority to remove an acting attorney general and appoint a new attorney general to the Department of Justice. According to Article I, Section 5 of the ASB Code and Constitution, a separation of powers is established between each of the ASB branches, meaning that powers and responsibilities are divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches so that the branches are not in conflict with one another. This section reads that, “The powers of the ASB shall be divided by function into three distinct departments … the judicial powers (shall be vested) in the ASB Judicial Council.”

The Elections Commission and attorney general are both listed under the executive branch, overseen by the ASB president. While there is some overlap established in the ASB Code and Constitution between these two groups, the document does not directly establish the Judicial Council’s control over the overall workings of the Department of Justice.

In the ASB Code, these judicial powers are further clarified in Title III, Section 107, Paragraph A, which states that the Judicial Council can hear all election violation rulings from the Elections Commission. Article V, Section 4, however, limits the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council to “hear and decide all cases arising under this Constitution and all laws.” The authority to mandate a new election or require a member of the Department of Justice, of which the Elections Commission and attorney general are members, to assert a different position is lacking from Judicial Council oversight.

It is important to note that deciding on a case’s constitutionality and striking down a previous ruling are not the same as actively taking steps to overstep one’s constitutional bounds. The Judicial Council may be the “supreme judicial body” of the ASB, as stated in Article V, Section 1 of the constitution, but it cannot perform the executive branch’s job in place of the executive branch.

In ordering a new election and replacing the acting attorney general, the Judicial Council essentially asserted its power over the ASB president and his own department. Such actions are, at best, an ill-guided misinterpretation of the ASB Code and Constitution. At worst, they are nothing short of a power grab and unconstitutional overreach of Judicial Council authority.

With the election finally behind us, some may ask, “Why is this relevant at all?” As new officers step into their roles, they will be wise to take steps to fully understand the differing roles of each branch and the distribution of powers between them. Student government must focus on serving the students it represents, not engaging in actions that undermine the legitimacy of the entire institution.

Our students deserve better leadership from student government officers. Our campus is not in House of Cards, and it is time our student government starts acting like it.

Levi Bevis is a senior public policy leadership major from Florence, Alabama.