Op-Ed: Can Harbaugh be our next CSG president?

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 11:24am

Central Student Government election season is upon us. Over the next few weeks, you will be accosted by candidates as you walk through the Diag and you will receive scores of social media reminders to vote. Come election day, if you vote, chances are you will either vote for the party your friend is in, vote for the party that annoys you the least or write in some campus celebrity. If you go with the latter option, more likely than not you will want to write in Jim Harbaugh. Many of your classmates will do the same, and Coach Harbaugh will take third or fourth place, depending on how many viable parties run. Conventional wisdom says these votes will be thrown away. But that might not be true.

The Central Student Government Constitution (yes, there is such a thing) states, “No representative may run for election or hold office representing a constituency of which that person is not a member.” This means that a representative must be “enrolled or actively working toward their degree.” Nowhere else does the constitution mention qualifications for office. That settles the question, right? Jim Harbaugh isn’t working toward a degree, and therefore he cannot be president. Not quite.

The CSG Constitution uses very specific language. It uses the term “representative” only when it refers to members of the legislative branch — the Assembly. When it refers to the president, it uses the term “president.”  When it refers to members of Central Student Government as a whole, it uses the terms “members” and “officers.”  

There is a legal canon of statutory construction called “expressio unius est exclusio alterius,” which means the expression of one thing comes at the exclusion of others. If you state one item, and not another, you only meant to include that one item.  

Note that the one clause in the constitution containing an enrollment restriction only mentions representatives. It does not say “members” or “officers.”  Thus, using the expressio unius canon, the text of the constitution states that anyone — student or not — can be president, but only those enrolled as students working toward their degrees can be representatives. If the constitution wanted that restriction to apply to all members of CSG or the president, it would have used “members” or “officers,” as it does in other sections. Likewise, if it wanted to include the president in that restriction, it could have stated, “A representative and the president,” or included a similar provision in the article on the executive branch. But it does not.

Interpreting the constitution — and any legal document — should remain faithful to the text. The text of the CSG Constitution is clear as to who is eligible to serve as president. Jim Harbaugh can serve as CSG president. 

John Lin is a Public Policy and law school graduate student.