At the foundation of the United States’ government is the system of checks and balances. It is laid out in the U.S. Constitution, a document in which the Baylor Student Body Constitution declares itself to be under. Under such a system, there is a separation of powers. The Supreme Court, for example, would not be able to pass its own legislation, as that is the duty of the legislative branch.
In Article I Section 3, the Student Body Constitution states clearly that “The Student Government shall be divided into executive, legislative, and judicial departments with no branch exercising any power properly belonging to either of the others.”
There have been instances this month, however, in which separation of powers has been overlooked.
Student Senate voted on April 9 to approve a bill making an amendment to the constitution. This proposal titled SE 62-12, added procedures for hearing and deciding cases in the appellate jurisdiction of the Student Court. The bill also states that such a procedure is necessary for Student Court to function at its best.
What the bill was intended to fix is admirable. It makes sense to fix a problem if possible. Admittedly, it is a problem that the constitution does not provide for this procedure. It’s an entire facet of Student Court that is missing.
What does not make sense, however, is the bill was authored by Roswell, N.M., junior Cody Coll and Texarkana, Ark., senior Daniel Pellegrin, both members of the court at the time.
Although the bill was sponsored by three members of the Senate — San Antonio junior Chase Hardy, Frisco sophomore James Porter and Waco sophomore Emily Neel — this does not negate the blatant conflict of interest and violation of separation of powers.
If members of the Senate worked closely with members of the court to author the bill, then separation of powers would have been intact and promote interaction between branches.
The court heard and decided on a case Hardy v. Electoral Commission on April 13. According to the court’s opinion, Arlington senior Dominic Edwards told Katy junior Lawren Kinghorn that SE 62-12 should not be placed on the ballot for the student body elections on Monday and Tuesday. Kinghorn told senior Sarah Park, the Electoral Commissioner, not to include SE 62-12 on the ballot.
Hardy emailed a petition for certiorari to the court on Monday. The court determined that proposed legislation of SE 62-12 was an amendment, which does not require Edwards’ signature of approval, according to the constitution.
There are several discrepancies throughout the court’s opinion. The court repeatedly refers to a seemingly irrelevant part of the constitution. It cites Article III, Sec. III, Par. I, heading Q as stating all bills passed by the Senate must be approved by the student body president. As of 11 p.m. Thursday, the version of the constitution found on the student government’s website conflicts with the court’s version. Heading Q states the student body president will be subject to the Executive Branch By-Laws.
The constitution that the average student has access to mentions approval of bills by the president under heading N. This might seem nit-picky, but the court is setting precedents. In addition, it is the right of the student body to be able to understand and follow the court’s actions and opinions accurately.
It is also the right of the student body to know when conflict of interests abound.
One of the biggest discrepancies is that Pellegrin, a court justice, actually heard the case. He did not recuse himself, even though he clearly had a conflict of interest. Pellegrin did, however, write a dissenting opinion.
He states that the court has mistakenly interpreted the constitution. He writes, “Because of the Court’s holding, the ability of the Executive to check the Legislative Branch has been reduced.” Ironically, he goes on to add, “The chipping away of the checks and balance presents a possibility for these types of issues to escalate, and under the current text of the Constitution the checks and balances have been threatened by the Court’s ruling.”
Ultimately, the constitution does not specifically state that members of student court cannot author a bill or suggest an amendment. It could be interpreted that any member of student government — including court justices — can author legislation because the constitution does not directly say they can’t.
But to keep the integrity of their offices intact, court justices should not breach the rule of separation of powers.
This same rule applies to all branches of student government.
There have been times this semester when the executive branch appears to be overstepping its reach as well.
At the last Senate meeting, Edwards and Kinghorn, along with other writers, recommended 800 changes to the Student Body Constitution. It would have been extremely difficult to approve such sweeping changes all at once. Thankfully, the Senate voted to table the amendments.
In another instance, Edwards vetoed a bill that would allow candidates for student body offices and their campaign workers from posting promotional material on their own social media sites. The Senate voted to overturn his veto.
In both of these cases, the sytem of checks and balances worked. All branches of the government must be aware of their roles.
Whether it’s the executive, judicial or legislative branches, conflicts of interest only cause problems.