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Inside the JC Majority

JC hearing pic

(Liya Rechtman)– I didn’t want to write anything about the controversy surrounding the recent Judiciary Council decision. I thought it was unprofessional. When the chair of the JC asked me and the other two members of the majority decision if we wanted to add anything to the all-campus email about the decision or write a majority opinion I said no, of course not. In the last major election scandal that the JC ruled on in 2012, one member who dissented from the majority opinion did not write a dissenting opinion because to do so was unprecedented. No one has ever written an opinion of the court as far as I am aware before this complaint.

But now, given the misinformation and extended dissenting opinions written by two of the members of the judiciary council, I feel like I have some obligation both to provide the alternative viewpoint and some of the reasoning behind our decision and to give voice to some issues with the way that this case has been mishandled by dissenters.

Judiciary Committee Hearing Mishandled

I am embarrassed by the way many students are treating this situation. While the people trying to overturn the JC ruling may see themselves as coming for a Constitutional place or acting in pursuit of justice, they are bullying Amani ’15 in completely unacceptable ways. The Student published a cartoon of her stealing money. That is not acceptable. That is cruel and the editor who allowed that to be printed should be ashamed of themself. I expect more from my fellow students than outright bullying and public shaming. We are not acting like a Supreme Court – we are acting like a bunch of bullying kids on a playground.

The same holds for the JC members who dissented from the ruling. Part of the reason that only seniors were chosen as alternatives for this committee (in addition to two regular JC members who are both underclasspeople) was because we are well on our way and it wasn’t expected that we would get wrapped up in the gossip and drama that happens every time there’s an election complaint. People get really hurt by these complaints, no matter the verdict, and lose sight of the fact that in addition to being the ‘student Supreme Court’ we are all also students. The dissenters seem so wrapped up in this case that they fail to see the very serious emotional and social harm they’re doing to people involved. Instead of merely pursuing justice they are socially ostracizing their fellow students, candidates who in good faith put their energies towards trying to make student life better.

Two members of the JC that opposed the majority opinion also wanted to cross-examine the evidence brought to the committee by the four (two vice presidential and the two presidential) candidates. JC is charged with upholding the Constitution and ruling on violations, but under current AAS law there is no real mechanism that allows for cross-examining the evidence provided to us by candidates. Two JC members proposed that we ask candidates to waive their rights protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that safeguards students (and their families when they are under 18) from having to publically display their school records. FERPA also covers all materials that students check out from the library and print at the school. The two JC members saw asking candidates to waive their FERPA rights as the only way to fully cross-examine evidence. If a student did not want to waive their FERPA rights, a minority of the JC argued that a candidate’s refusal would present reasonable suspicious about the validity of that candidate’s spending record. In short, not allowing the JC to view information protected by federal privacy rights would be considered a disqualifying factor.

The Judiciary Council functions as a student Supreme Court. However, it does not have the power to demand that students waive federal rights, even though it is akin to a Supreme Court in relation to the executive and legislative branches of Amherst’s student government. Unlike a Supreme Court, none of us has a degree in law. Some of us may be LJST majors, but that just isn’t quite the same thing as having an actual degree in law, passing the bar, or being appointed a justice of the peace. To act is if we have more power than we do is presumptuous and misguided. To force candidates to waive their FERPA rights so that we, as the Amherst College student judiciary committee, could see their entire printing history seems like a gross overstep of the power afforded us by our nomination.

Reasons for the Majority Decision

The actual decision of the court has also come under fire based on certain misinformation perpetuated by members of the JC who opposed the decision. I think many people have been unclear on the exact circumstances in which Amani made clear to the JC that there was additional money to be considered as a potential campaign expenditure. Amani did not lie in the hearing, as many have insinuated, nor did she steal money from the AAS or purposefully obfuscate her spending. After the formal JC hearing several members of the committee called Amani back into the JC discussion room once all the other candidates had left. The decision was made quickly and without consulting JC procedural rules. No one voted on the question, we simply called her informally and asked her alone additional questions, without considering that some of the same questions might apply to other candidates. One of the JC members who later dissented thought that perhaps Amani had not reported a poster that she had posted and that there was a whole other, larger poster that had not been reported. When asked about this Amani said that there was no other poster posted but that there were posters in a different design that she had scrapped and never used.

The JC conversation then hinged on whether or not these posters that a candidate had printed but not posted counted in the campaign expenditures or not. If they did, they would exceed the campaign expenditure limit. If they did not count, of course they would not. When we began to debate this, the majority of the JC understood the Constitution to speak very directly to anxieties around visibility and posters in public spaces influencing voters. Under campaign rules, section 8 subsection 3 of the Constitution it reads: “candidates or other representatives… shall not deface any other candidate’s poster, nor shall they cover any portion of another candidate’s poster with their own.” So clearly one of the issues that the Constitution is trying to deal with in this section is making sure that posters are visible, and understanding that only visible posters have the potential to influence an election. If posters not posted or table tents not put on tables had the potential still to effect voter decisions, than this section would not make sense.

Further, the Constitution continues to see visibility of campaign materials as the essential and operative element of those materials when it states in section 8 campaign rules subsection 4: “No signs, posters, or printed material regarding a referendum or election shall be allowed within reasonable view of a public Amherst College computer.” The Constitution cares about visibility so much that it is able to imagine that a poster simply in the same space as a computer could directly influence a vote. The visibility of campaign materials or their general introduction into the public sphere is what makes them campaign materials.

As I understand it, the JC made a ruling that in this particular case, and according to the current rules of the Constitution, the definition of campaign expenditures would hinge on materials that could actually influence the election, i.e. anything that was visible. The decision was not intended to create a precedent. The initial JC complaint included a recommendation for altering the Constitution and the entire JC agreed that the campaign expenditure rules needed some serious tweaking so that in the future this would not be an issue.

One of the ways this issue could be circumnavigated going forward is through a campaign expenditure limit, enforced by providing each candidate with a ticket for a limited amount of money (30$ for executive campaigns, 15$ for senate campaigns, and $15 for run-off elections) that could only be redeemed through OAS. All campaign materials would also include a small tag at the bottom (similar to union labor tags) marking it as an OAS-approved purchase. In order to make this completely enforceable, the things that a candidate could spend on influencing a campaign would be limited to posters and printed materials. If a candidate was found to spend money on some other expense to help their campaign like a paid campaign manager or beer for a party, they would be disqualified.

As we look forward to the discussion in senate tomorrow about the JC ruling, lets take a moment to remember what the purview of student government actually is, what it could be, and how we are acting towards each other in the context of this election. No serious campaign reform regulation suggestion has been introduced yet in the senate, but I hope that the guests coming into senate, the JC members, and senators can engage in a productive and respectful conversation about how to ensure that going forward we don’t find ourselves in this kind of situation again.

*I chose to omit the names of students in this article not to obfuscate the case but as a sign of respect and professionalism towards my fellow students.

About Liya Rechtman

Liya Rechtman is constantLy evolving.

20 comments on “Inside the JC Majority

  1. Ethan Corey
    April 20, 2014

    Liya, throughout this article you consistently use phrases like “as many have insinuated” and “the way many students are treating this situation” without ever specifying who this abstract “many” actually is. While you claim to do this out of a concern for professionalism, in fact these phrases are just not-so-subtle ways of unfairly attacking those with whom you disagree without having to be held to account for your attacks.

    You create the impression in your article that there is widespread bullying and misinformation coming from opponents of the JC decision, yet you only cite one concrete example–a satirical comic in The Student–without addressing any of the substantive claims made by the opponents of the decision, which have been laid out extensively in two dissenting opinions and one article on this website. Neither of those two dissents or the article ever claimed that Amani was lying or that she stole money from the AAS. To accuse opponents of the decision of holding these beliefs is borderline libelous and highly unprofessional.

    Servet, Chloe, and Elaine all raised reasonable concerns about the way in which the JC’s decision was made and the impacts it could have on future elections, especially for low-income students. You addressed none of these claims. Instead you chose to merely label Elaine’s article “misinformation” without actually citing a single factual error in her article. You may call that professionalism, but to me it sounds more like bullying.

    Liya, I deeply respect the efforts you have made to create positive change during your time at the College, but please make more of an effort to practice what you preach.

    • In Agreement
      April 20, 2014

      Preach, Ethan.

    • In
      April 20, 2014

      Ethan’s claim’s here couldn’t be more accurate or compelling. This article fails to address any of the plausible arguments made about the jurisprudential ramifications of the decisions as described by Servet and Chloe. No attempt has been made to dispute the harms against low-income students. No argument has been made against the arbitrariness of how we are to understand “public space.” In fact, I have yet to see any plausible argument engaging with the true purpose of the campaign to overturn the JC ruling whatsoever.

      The only thing that this article purports to do is to debase the movement of overturning the JC ruling as some sort of “Anti-Amani” campaign, and attack the people involved as opposed to the arguments offered. Liya claims that the dissenters are “misinformed” and have somehow overstepped the bounds of their duty because they wrote dissenting opinions, and wanted access to full information before making any rulings. That since we are not congregating in the Supreme Court building, we should be mindful of “what the purview of the AAS actually is.”

      Liya seems to want to imply that Chloe and Servet are not doing their jobs, or are misunderstanding their duties, but she gets this hopelessly wrong. Making no attempt to engage with the arguments presented to you is a violation of duty. Debasing the true incentive of a reasonable movement is a violation of duty. Arrogantly assuming that Amani’s feelings were the only ones hurt, or even factoring her feelings into deciding whether she overspent or not, is a violation of duty.

      Failing to respect the opinion of others, and dismissing them as intrinsically misinformed or mistaken is highly unprofessional. It’s especially interesting that Rechtman seeks to question the credibility of the dissenters by making a trivial distinction between the AAS and the Supreme Court. In so doing, she forgets that shecan’t undermine the credibility of the dissenters without thereby undermining her own.

      This has nothing to do with Amani, and if you look at the arguments made, she isn’t even mentioned. This has to do with overturning bad jurisprudence and logically flawed reasoning. By focusing only on the adverse externalities of only one of the involved parties, Rechtman inhabits the bullying role she seeks to dismiss.

  2. J
    April 20, 2014

    Purely as a matter of interpretation, the majority opinion’s rationale, and your rationale here, is incorrect. The petition to overturn to ruling is not bullying, and not cruel. It is not about Amani, it is about the JC’s puzzling ruling that completely creates a new meaning for the word, “expenditure”

    The JC ruling is simply contrary to common sense. Expenditure is expenditure, period. If you spend money on your campaign, with the intent of using it for your campaign, then it is expenditure.

    It takes some serious interpretational gymnastic for the JC to make this argument that “expenditure” is actually not really “expenditure” but actually “public expenditure”

    >>You argue that “the Constitution continues to see visibility of campaign materials as the essential and operative element of those materials” because it says at one point that “No signs, posters, or printed material regarding a referendum or election shall be allowed within reasonable view of a public Amherst College computer.” You conclude that “The Constitution cares about visibility so much…” and therefore, “the visibility of campaign materials or their general introduction into the public sphere is what makes them campaign materials.”

    >>The constitution also says “Any campaign item promoting a candidate counts toward this sum,” and the ruling interprets this as defining expenditure to mean only that which is public.

    It is true that both passages understand public promotion to be a key and vital element of “expenditure,” but it does not in any way exclusively define “expenditure” to be *only* those expenditure that “publicly” promote a candidate.

    Just because it identifies something that counts towards expenditure, does not preclude other things from counting towards the sum. To argue otherwise is simply faulty reasoning.

  3. Pierre Joseph
    April 20, 2014

    Nobody is comparing the JC to SCOTUS. So please stop doing that. It is silly.
    You’re a senior on your way out the door. I’d like to believe you have better things to spend your time on.

    The JC has an investigative role to play in matters pertaining to the AAS Constitution. Are AAS Senators actually following the rules?? Recent events suggest some do and some don’t. The JC has a responsibility to hold members of the AAS accountable. There is no excuse if you take the oath and serve. Sitting senators know the rules. The Majority JC opinion obviously shows that rules can be altered. And this is what gets people angry.

    I thought it would be rude to file a complaint against a particular student, seeing that I didn’t have any proof of wrong doing. Candidates are not required to disclose spending to the election committee, although there is a hard $45 cap on expenditures. So how is anyone, except the JC able to hold candidates accountable? I thought it would be appropriate to allege wrongdoing across the board rather than single someone out.

    What continues to trouble me is that the JC saw the complaint as valid and then didn’t rule on the actual complaint. Invoking FERPA conveys an unwillingness to make a tough call, and do what is required.

    — This debate should be bigger than one particular candidate. I’m asking you to see that.

  4. Pierre Joseph
    April 20, 2014

    One more point to add… The size and amount of posters was simply one way to substantiate my JC complaint. It shouldn’t have been the crux of the ruling.

    Maybe I should have showed up during the hearing to clarify.

  5. AC+
    April 20, 2014

    The picture of the AAS basically tells me that the AAS doesn’t actually do anything serious and that you’re all just the biggest joke on campus. Therefore, all JC rulings are invalid because you all don’t actually take anything serious.

    Also, if you read all the articles that are eventually published on AC Voice and claim that students like Elaine are “misinformed” about the ruling, why would you agree to have that article published? Are you telling me that AC Voice publishes lies and you writers, like the AAS, are actually jokes on this campus, too? It just doesn’t make sense to me that an editor in chief (former or current, i don’t know) would publish an article that was all lies, only to publish another article correcting that former article. WHICH ONE OF YOU IS LYING/MISINFORMED?

    If Amani did indeed spend more than $45 (regardless of whether she used those posters–by the way, who is fact checking that? the “honor system” you and the majority agreed to is pretty stupid) then she did break the rules! And that you’re not acknowledging that, to me, is a form of bullying against low-income students. Liya, you claim to be an activist on campus and I really had higher expectations. You’ve let a lot of low-income students down.

    Like Ethan said, practice what you preach (in this case, your activism)

  6. David Keith
    April 20, 2014

    Liya,
    Thank you for taking the time to clarify your opinion and thought process with the ruling. Nevertheless, I find many faults with your argument. Ethan, J., and Pierre Joseph already outline the major issues that you neglect the substantial points of Elaine’s article and the definition of the word “expenditure”.

    I would like to add however my disappointment that you change how you represent the AAS based upon your personal agenda. In Ethan’s recent article “An Election That Doesn’t Matter” (http://acvoice.com/2014/04/07/an-election-that-doesnt-matter/), you were vehemently opposed to his argument against the AAS. He opened his article with an image of the ironically blank website entitled “What is the AAS Doing This Year”, and you sought to disprove this image of the Senate by outlining “important decisions”. (http://acvoice.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/aas.jpg?w=547&h=434)

    Clearly, upholding the common-sense definition of expenditure or ensuring equal opportunity for low-income students is not an “import decision” you think the JC or AAS should make. So, you decide to demonstrate this by highlighting the frivolity and adolescence of these institutions you normally defend. A dramatically different tone from less than two weeks ago. By opening your article with a photo of an AAS Toga Party, you use an image which suffers from the same shallowness that you (rightly) called out Ethan for. (http://acvoice.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/jc-hearing-pic.png?w=547&h=190)

    I agree in both of these instances that the Senate should play a valuable role in defending the interests of the student body, and I only ask that you take the same consistent approach. To lob shots at JC/AAS members for not having the same judicial experience or intelligence as Supreme Court justices is easy when you advocate for a quietist and quiescent student government at this particular moment, but consider that these self-induced sentiments of defeatism were/are the only things preventing the JC from performing its proper functions and the AAS from advancing the community farther.

    • well put
      April 21, 2014

      “To lob shots at JC/AAS members for not having the same judicial experience or intelligence as Supreme Court justices is easy when you advocate for a quietist and quiescent student government at this particular moment, but consider that these self-induced sentiments of defeatism were/are the only things preventing the JC from performing its proper functions”

      word.

  7. We are not the Supreme Court?
    April 20, 2014

    By saying “We are not the supreme court,” you are merely dodging the responsibility–indeed, the burden–you took upon yourself when you took part of the JC.

    Fairness does not only exist in the Supreme Court of the United States.

    You make it seem as if one is allowed to dissent only if one is a supreme court justice. There is nothing wrong or improper about borrowing a practice from a real legal court, even if the JC itself is not one. Your task was to judge fairly. The dissent tried to do exactly that. I don’t doubt that you were trying to do that too. But you may not simply say “we are not the supreme court” and, in one broad stroke, nullify their endeavor to confront their responsibility as members of the JC to make sure candidates are held accountable.

    The point of any ruling is to rule between opposing parties.. Somebody will lose; somebody will potentially get hurt. That is the burden of any judge in the real world, any arbitrator in any circumstances, and the student JC members in the AAS. Just because the JC does not rule on real legal cases does not mean it therefore cannot rule on anything, or that it therefore is free from having to make hard decisions. It is still the JC’s BURDEN.

    The JC, granted, is not charged with determining the guilt of any candidates. But nobody is suggesting that the JC should be judging guilt or character. But it IS charged with ensuring compliance with rules. If somebody breaks the rules, it is your duty to determine if that is actually the case, and if so, act on it. This is of course very much a difficult thing to do.

    In trying to avoid hurting the feelings of one group of people, you fail to realize that your decision in fact will and have hurt current and future students as well.

    Please don’t discredit and disempower basically everything that you yourself have tried to do as a member of the student government.

    (Also, wow. “Some of us may be LJST majors, but that just isn’t quite the same thing as having an actual degree in law.” If that’s not snarky, I don’t know what is… You don’t need a law degree to investigate compliance in an college student government election…)

  8. STOP
    April 20, 2014

    Is it possible that certain printed documents were not printed correctly, thus scrapped and not used–therefore making them useless? I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to. Regardless, if you didn’t put a poster up, it’s impossibly to influence a voter.

    Ps. I highly doubt a poster is what got Amani two more votes. She’s an amazing person who doesn’t need to rely on a piece of paper to tell you that. The people who realize this voted for her. Those who didn’t are wasting their time arguing over frivolous details regarding a college election. Continuing a discussion between people trying to exercise their political muscles is just going to produce biased results. People who aren’t interested in this have completely shut this jargon out.

    • 2017
      April 21, 2014

      I lean towards sympathizing with Amani on this count–that regardless of the margin of victory, she won, and that the infraction was rather minor.

      Still, I understand why people are against the ruling, and why they see it as a problem, and why they are fighting it. And I think you should try to take the time as well to consider why people are upset by the implications of this ruling, beyond Amani.

      The problem seems to be precisely that the socioeconomically disadvantaged student will not be able to afford to make the same casual decision to scrap posters that turn out to be different than they had intended.
      If only useful expenditure is counted as expenditure, then this explodes the possibilities for spending on a campaign..

      Also, I think we should all stop making the argument that “this is just a college election.” This is ridiculous.

      Of course we are only in college. But we will all one day become politicians, doctors, judges, whatever. If we lower the expectations for ourselves today, if we don’t hold ourselves to the expectation to abide by the rules in a low-stake situation, how can we expect real public figures in the “real world” to do so in high-stake situations?

      The road from Amherst College to positions of real influence, authority and power is not so long. This is where we start; where habits develop; where expectations are enforced.

      I think Leah, despite how often I agree with her, is being incredibly irresponsible (if I could bold this, I would) with this argument. Just because we are in college does not mean we should hold ourselves and our behavior to a different standard.

      • 2017
        April 21, 2014

        *I mean Liya

  9. Anonymous
    April 20, 2014

    What is a government, society or student body, without enforceable rules for governance and codes of conduct? What is a government, society or student body, whose elected officials cannot be held accountable?
    The JC decision and this article suggests, indeed, that there is no need for an AAS constitution or a student-body honor code.

  10. Joshua Ferrer
    April 21, 2014

    I agree with much that has been said in the comments thus far. The JC certainly does differ from the Supreme Court in one very specific way: it ultimately seeks to determine the intent of the law, and not the law’s actual text. This led recently to a ruling eliminating the no-election-posters-in-Val constitutional clause as no longer applicable due to electronic elections. In the case before us, the intent of the law was clearly to limit campaign expenditures to create a level playing field, and to hold candidates accountable to defined spending limits. Yet the JC has decided in this specific instance to ignore the intent of the law and instead rule based on the letter of the law (a letter that, as it stands, is ambiguous). This inconsistency puzzles me, along with many other aspects of the decision.

  11. _superluminal
    April 21, 2014

    I also agree with much of what has been said here and don’t feel the need to add to the analysis of the JC decision itself.

    I am commenting because what initially impressed me with the way that this complaint was handled, especially with the responses by Chloe and Servet, was the level of professionalism. A large part of the reason why I have paid attention to this complaint is precisely because of the way that they respectfully, professionally, yet forcefully disagreed with the ruling. Yes, this is not the Supreme Court, but rules are serious, have serious implications, and infractions should be treated with seriousness and professionalism especially by a juridical organization. However, even before I read your actual defense of the majority decision, which I still disagree with, I was already turned off by the lack of professionalism you exhibited in writing this article. Regardless of who is right, everyone should be respectful of everyone involved. I am surprised that you would be so disrespectful towards other members of JC such that you refer to their opinions as “misinformation,” their reactions as “mishandling,” and are condescending towards them and the student body you have chosen to represent throughout the article. This is especially true of your postscript–it is not as though the readers of your article do not know who you are implicitly referring to as we have all been getting email updates about this decision and have received analysis of the situation from Chloe, Servet, and Elaine, and it reads as though you do not respect them and their opinions enough to justify naming them. To me, this is condescending and rude, not even arguably under the guise of professionalism.

    This piece, even in its analysis of the decision, sounds like you got mad that students disagreed with you and decided to throw shade (for lack of a more professional yet more fitting term), yet again using AC Voice as a bully pulpit (I refer to last semester’s article responding to the BSU–would you have published this in the same way that the dissenting opinions were published and circulated?) when there are actual problems at hand. I’m not saying you can’t be mad and write as though you are mad, but don’t be condescending towards those who disagree and pretend that you are being professional.

  12. _superluminal
    April 21, 2014

    ^^ The above comment is by Liz Alexander ’14. WordPress won’t allow me to post not using my Gravatar, which does not include my name.

  13. Anonymous
    April 21, 2014

    Preach, Liya!!!!

  14. Adam
    April 22, 2014

    Just read the comments, and oh, my gosh: Such fancy words, such bad legal theory.

    If we’re going to be declaring “juridical” principles, how about this:

    De minimis non curat lex.

  15. Pingback: All the President’s Posters | AC VOICE

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