Accusations against Supreme Court undermine trust in SG

Reagan Stuart

To be frank, this year’s executive alliance election has been embarrassing. The average student has been forced to sit idly by as they witness impeachment legislation, Supreme Court resignations and a takeover of the elections by the Dean of Students. One can’t help but wonder what happened to cause this implosion. Harsh rulings by the Election Supervisory Board, a flawed election code and mishandling by the Dean of Students are the main factors that have led to this unfortunate situation.

Organizing and conducting elections is not a simple task.  The multitude of competing motivations coupled with the high stakes means that campaign infractions happen every year, and this cycle was no exception. However, unnecessarily harsh punishments handed down by the ESB created a toxic campaign environment. In an attempt to perhaps send a message of caution to the campaigns, it inadvertently turned themselves into a weapon. It seems that some of the campaigns attempted to use the ESB not as an arbiter of fairness, but as a means to impede or even disqualify their competitors. According to Chief Justice Emeritus Zachary Stone’s resignation letter, “the ESB backed itself into a corner where excessive harshness was the only consistent, face-saving answer.”

The campaigns’ only recourse was to appeal to the SG Supreme Court, whose decisions were to be final. However, Stone determined the election code to be “an absolute nightmare.” The rulings in question were unanimous among the justices, highlighting the fact that the ambiguous code could have multiple valid interpretations. However, the consistency of the rulings in favor of one campaign team raised suspicion that the court had ulterior motives. 

Stone attributed these ruling to “good faith disagreements,” according to David Engleman, Plan II and English senior and ESB chair. However some in the Assembly interpreted these as evidence of bias. Tanner Long, speaker of the assembly, filed to impeach Stone despite having only circumstantial evidence against him. He also filed an injunction on the election results pending the impeachment.

Not only was this impeachment irresponsible in its nature, the timing of it severely disrupted normal electoral proceedings. In addition, the speaker of the assembly does not possess the authority to delay election results or remove a justice from his or her seat. His attempt to do so could have constituted an abuse of power. All of this kerfuffle left the Dean of Students no option but to intervene.

The Dean of Students kept silent during all of this, and then attempted to place blame on the court, citing “procedural irregularity” in regard to court members attending ESB hearings. There is no written rule preventing the court from attending ESB hearings. Trying to remedy the situation, the DoS hired an independent party, UT law professor Jeana Lungwitz, to review some of the cases that were overturned by the court. 

The outcome is an upcoming special election, and potentially a lawsuit against the Dean of Students from whichever campaign ends up losing because of the unprecedented seizure of control of the election process. The Dean of Students’ failure to adequately address the quickly escalating situation following Long’s legislation has only added to the problem that now has no good solution. 

No one person or body should be held completely responsible or blameless in this situation. The candidates, the ESB, Tanner Long and the Dean of Students all made mistakes while operating under a mangled campaign election code. Should we hope for better? Yes. Should we expect it? Under the current circumstances, no. If anything, this cycle has evidenced the need for an overhaul of the election code, and perhaps structural change beyond that. Student Government should be a model for democracy. Instead, it has been a farce, disappointing the students it is supposed to help.

Stuart is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Lubbock. Follow him on Twitter @realreaganstu.