Speakergate: GUSA Constitutional Council to open inquiry on Senate speaker election
On Friday afternoon, the GUSA Constitutional Council voted to unanimously accept Ethan Chess’ (COL ’14) petition concerning the events of the Jan. 12 Senate meeting. Senators had voted against approving Vice Speaker Sam Greco (SFS ’15) to assume to speakership. Instead, a ballot election was held in which Senator Emily Siegler (SFS ’14) won the position.
“We will be contacting relevant parties to schedule a formal hearing as quickly as possible,” the Constitutional Council wrote in a statement to Vox about Chess’ petition.
Constitutional Council Justice Josh Shinbrot (COL ’16) said in an interview with Vox that the Council wants the problem to be solved within the next couple of days. “My goal is that once this case is resolved, there will be no question about happens when the speaker resigns: who assumes that role, how they go about assuming it,” he said.
The Constitutional Council has designated Vice President Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) to be the Senate’s non-voting presiding officer. “Until we complete our formal hearing process, we … are not recognizing a speaker of the Senate,” Shinbrot said.
Chess’ petition also requested an injunction against Senate meetings until the inquiry about the speakership was over, though GUSA denied this request in the statement.
Shinbrot said that the Senate could not stop working because of the upcoming presidential elections. “We’re not bringing GUSA to a halt,” he said. “There’s a lot of business that GUSA needs to get done.”
The Council will investigate whether the Jan. 12 electoral proceedings were in accordance with GUSA bylaws and its constitution. “The constitution doesn’t specifically talk about what happens if the Speaker of the Senate is no longer able to fulfil his duties for any reason [in Article 5, Section 5],” Shinbrot said. While the bylaw 2.05e does that the Vice-Speaker “[assumes] the role of Speaker should the Speaker resign or be removed,” it does not mention whether the succession requires a confirmation vote.
If the electoral proceedings were invalid, according to Shinbrot, the Council must also consider other issues. “If Sam was speaker [the moment George Spyropoulos (COL ’14) resigned], did the vote on Sunday remove him from that position? We have to look at the section of the Constitution, of the bylaws that talk about removing people from the position,” Shinbrot said.
Greco said that he was happy to see the speaker election be reviewed in the Constitutional Council. “Nearly the entire procedure used on Sunday was neither in line with our bylaws nor precedent,” he wrote in an email to Vox. “Our bylaws say nothing about a confirmation vote.”
Last year, Vice Speaker Zachary Singer (SFS ’15) succeeded Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) as Speaker after Tisa won the GUSA presidency. A simple vote of acclamation confirmed Singer’s position. The Sunday vote that failed to confirm Greco to the speakership would continue this apparent precedent. “I prefer to use the word ‘previous practice’ because we only have one instance,” Shinbrot said of the vote. “I feel like precedent is something long-standing.”
Greco said that last year’s vote of acclamation differed to the one that happened on Sunday. “There was no period of questioning, no debate … formal votes were never cast. The Vice President also did not preside at any point. The hour-long process followed on Sunday has never been done before,” he wrote.
Shinbrot could not comment on whether Sunday’s vote was an attempt by Ramadan to undermine Greco’s GUSA career. “I don’t think any member of the Constitutional Council has been presented with any evidence that would lead us to believe that Ramadan is interfering with the affairs of the Senate,” Shinbrot said. “It’s not abnormal for a member of the executive to be present at Senate meetings. They are able to make comments at those meetings.”
Vox asked Shinbrot what disadvantage might Greco be in if he lost the speakership. “I haven’t really thought about it. I really only care about one thing, and that’s interpreting the bylaws properly,” he said. “As a student … I obviously care if political meddling is affecting GUSA because they represent me as a student and they represent our voice.”
Tisa and Ramadan has not yet responded to Vox‘s requests for comment at press time. But don’t worry, Vox will keep you updated as the GUSA house of cards tumble.
Read Chess’ petition in full below:
Read the Constitution Council’s petition response in full below: