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CSJ: Ballot survey on RSG secession to be maintained

By Giacomo Bologna, Staff Reporter
Published November 28, 2012

After a three-hour hearing, the Central Student Judiciary ruled against the injunction filed by Central Student Government against Rackham Student Government, effectively maintaining a non-binding question for graduate students regarding RSG secession on the election ballot.

The question surveys if graduate students would be in support of examining what a newly formed, graduate student-only government separate from CSG would look like. While the CSG election and other student government elections are already underway, the results of the non-binding question could have been enjoined by CSJ, meaning the results of the election would never be made public.

Since the election concludes Wednesday at midnight, the injunction was separated into pressing and non-pressing matters, with a second hearing slated for another time to discuss non-pressing issues. The parts of the injunction that CSJ agreed to hear included RSG’s involvement in violating the submission deadline for ballot questions in its own bylaws and CSG’s compiled code and whether “irreparable harm” was caused by the question’s presence on the ballot.

The injunction was filed on Wednesday, six days before the start of the election by GSG’s student legal counsel, LSA senior Lukas Garske. Garske was joined by CSG committee chair Jeremy Keeney, a law student, to represent the petitioner at the hearing and RSG president Michael Benson was accompanied by two law students for counsel. Spectators included various members of CSG including Manish Parikh, CSG president and Business senior, and several members of RSG’s executive board.

A major point in the hearing was whether the question submitted by RSG was a “ballot question” or a “referendum,” which CSJ eventually voted in favor of the latter in a 3-2 decision.

Under the RSG bylaws, ballot questions must be submitted within 14 days of the election. However, under another section of the bylaws, “referenda” can be sent out to its constituents “as (RSG) deems necessary by a majority vote.”

Because the question was submitted 12 days before the election, its status as a ballot question or referendum could decide whether it was in violation of RSG bylaws.

A dissenting justice pointed out that because the frequently asked questions guide on RSG’s website never uses the word referendum, but rather calls the question a “ballot question” multiple times.

Gersovitz said that while this was true, it was inconsequential. “I don’t think they’ve been very strict with their language,” he said.

Furthermore, according to CSJ’s Manual of Procedure, injunctions must meet four criteria, including damage will be brought upon the petitioner if the injunction is not upheld, but CSJ voted 5-0 against the notion that “irreparable harm” was caused as a product of the question being submitted only 12 days before the election, as opposed to 14.

Benson testified that no complaints or concerns had been brought up by any student regarding the question. He also alluded to a question from a previous election that polled students about the Rackham Graduate School’s grade point average scale. The question was submitted only a few days before the election, Benson said, and members of RSG voted on submitting the question through e-mail and CSG didn’t bring any charges.

Lastly, CSJ ruled 5-0 that RSG was not in violation of CSG Compiled Code, which, per CSG’s injunction, said ballot questions must be submitted 25 days before the election. This portion of the compiled code, however, is a recent addition and it isn't included in the Compiled Code currently online.

Gersovitz cited a regulation included in the all-campus constitution to express his sentiment that “students can’t be bound by rules and regulations that are either unclear or unpublished for obvious reasons.

During the hearing, Keeney questioned the intent of Benson, asking if he was aware that he has a reputation that he is “out to get revenge on CSG.” As the group discussed whether it was a fair or pertinent question, Benson volunteered to answer the question regardless.

Benson acknowledged that he was Student General Counsel from 2008-2009 and that, when nominated for another term, he was rejected by the assembly, then called Michigan Student Assembly.

“Was I upset that the assembly rejected me? Yes,” he said. “Did I get over it like an adult within about a day? Yes.”

He added he was “somewhat offended” that this issue was brought up.

Overall though, both Garske and Benson spoke highly of CSJ and the process. While Garske called the results of the hearing “disappointing,” he nevertheless lauded the professionalism of the justices.

“The judges were very impartial in their decision-making process, so I applaud them for that,” he said.

He added: “Every new crop of justices continues to impress with their insight and depth.”

Law student Liz Gary, a member of RSG’s counsel at the meeting, said the hearing was her first personal experience with student government at the University.

“It gives me greater appreciation into how much work goes into all student governing,” she said. “These are important, they affect thousands of people, they affect thousands of dollars."