The Public Interest Research Group in Michigan is not ready to give up its fight for a chapter on campus just yet. Last week, PIRGIM leaders filed a motion with the Michigan Student Assembly for an appeal, citing several wrongdoings that occurred during the group’s original trial before the Central Student Judiciary. Because the first CSJ trial was marred by a series of misinterpretations and missteps, the appeal should be granted quickly, and PIRGIM should be afforded the fair trial any student organization deserves.
Wells-Reid v. Michigan Student Assembly, the trial in question, took place after former MSA Chief of Staff Elliot Wells-Reid filed an injunction to prevent the assembly from voting to fund a pilot chapter of PIRGIM, arguing that to fund PIRGIM would violate regulations that allow only 5 percent of the MSA budget to be used for groups that lobby. CSJ, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, announced its decision at an MSA meeting on March 15, ruling in favor of Wells-Reid and preventing any future MSA vote on the matter.
Students for PIRGIM, citing a laundry list of procedural mishaps, has rightfully filed an appeal with CSJ. The grievances listed in its appeal — which outlined several examples of institutional incompetence — all raise valid concerns in accordance with the All-Campus Constitution that sets clear guidelines for how CSJ should conduct its hearings.
PIRGIM claims simple procedural rules were not followed: Only three justices were present to hear the trial, even though the guidelines explicitly require four. Because the minute-keeper for the proceedings was sick, the minutes that were recorded are now considered unusable.
Some grievances, however, transcend simple questions of rule interpretation. PIRGIM complains that then-MSA Student General Counsel Jesse Levine — who represented MSA in the trial — withdrew from the trial early for personal reasons, leaving PIRGIM’s defense in the hands of an MSA member, former MSA Vice President Anita Leung, who had previously spoken out against it.
The PIRGIM vote had enormous implications for student advocacy on this campus, and CSJ had every obligation to conduct the trial with due process. If CSJ is going to make serious rulings, it should take its proceedings seriously.
PIRGIM’s appeal also takes issue with CSJ’s interpretation of tax law, a reading it believes was unduly stringent. PIRGIM has ensured that none of its advocacy tactics will include lobbying and has even consented to a contract requiring that it does not lobby.
Alongside the PIRGIM appeal, MSA representative Matt Hollerbach, who wrote the initial draft of the PIRGIM appeal along with his own amicus brief, and now MSA President Jesse Levine have filed separate statements. Both Students for PIRGIM and Hollerbach denounced Levine’s appeal, calling it “weak” and arguing that it failed to adequately address critical aspects of the CSJ hearing. Indeed, Levine’s appeal — all two pages of it — was far from thorough and fell short of a piercing criticism. As the newly elected MSA president, Levine should make greater efforts to exert his influence — frail and non-comprehensive appeal in a hearing of such magnitude is unacceptable.
PIRGIM has proven, with its branches in 35 states, that it can galvanize student power and tackle issues such as the high costs of housing and textbooks — issues MSA has not been successful in addressing in the past. Had Students for PIRGIM’s appeal been heard in a timely manner, the organization could have started its much-anticipated test-trial as early as next fall. The delays in the process have been unnecessary, and arguing over groundless legal technicalities in court — especially when unfair and unfounded court proceedings are used — will only postpone the efforts of PIRGIM and therefore prove disadvantageous to student interests.