On Sept. 27, the A.S. Senate voted to place three referendums on the ballot for its October election. The first two referendums involve the Constitutional Affairs Board. These referendums have the potential to drastically reshape the role of the CAB in A.S. and will cause unneeded problems in the not-so-distant future.
An ominous tone is set by the new name chosen for the CAB. The A.S. Judicial Court was the name chosen to replace the current Constitutional Affairs Board. According to the language of the referendum, the current name “does not accurately reflect the true scope and nature of responsibility that (CAB) has.”
What responsibilities are those? Currently, the CAB’s responsibilities include reviewing constitutions presented by the various clubs ad organizations and then forwarding them to the Senate for final approval.
The CAB also reviews legislation that is passed by the Senate and ensures that the legislation is consistent with the A.S. constitution. If the CAB finds a conflict between the legislation and the constitution, it recommends to the Senate that the legislation be overturned. The Senate can either make a two-thirds vote to reject the recommendation or they can use parliamentary procedures to table the issue indefinitely.
It is this latter power that the second referendum seeks to change. The referendum would make the decisions of the CAB binding instead of being mere recommendations, which currently the CAB has no power to enforce. To overturn any rulings they did not like, the Senate would have to muster a three-quarters majority.
Apart from this veto power of the Senate, the relationship between the Senate and the CAB would be very similar to that between the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court.
Indeed, that appears to be part of the reason behind the move. Hamid Jahangard, A.S. attorney general, made that exact comparison between the Supreme Court and the CAB when describing the proposed changes to the CAB’s powers. He said there needed to be a “balance of power” in the A.S. Senate in order to prevent potential problems.
What problems those might be, however, are unclear. According to Hamid, while “there have been (problems) in the past” regarding A.S. abuses of power, they occurred years ago, and there were no specific issues which prompted the Senate to seek to change the powers of the CAB. Instead, Hamid said, the Senate was “looking to the future” to prevent problems from occurring down the road.
Fixing something that is not broken is a great way to invite trouble.
There are certainly a great many problems involved with the referendums that we can anticipate, even without the aid of experience.
The flaw in the reasoning of A.S. on this issue is its comparison of the Judicial Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court and the proposed Judicial Court would both be able to make binding constitutional decisions, the similarity ends there.
The U.S. Supreme Court is an appointed body composed of experts in the law who hold their offices for life. The Judicial Court by contrast would be composed of a mix of A.S. senators, the attorney general and an adviser from the Matador involvement Center. The attorney general and the senators are elected officials and only hold their offices until their terms expire. An analogous situation would be if the U.S. Senate appointed members from its own ranks to the Supreme Court.
Staffing a judicial body with elected officials is a recipe for disaster. Their objectivity cannot be ensured, especially regarding contentious political issues. Giving A.S. senators the power to make binding decisions on issues that they have a vested interest in is an open invitation for abuse of power.
The members of the Judicial Court will be nominated by the A.S. president and appointed by the Senate and thus will be members of the majority. How likely is it that they will declare the legislation that they helped pass to be unconstitutional?
What happens when a small majority approves funding for an unpopular student organization that the members of the Judicial Court don’t like? If the Judicial Court abuses its power and falsely declares the funding unconstitutional, what recourse do the students and the senators who voted for the funding have?
Is it likely that the senators who voted against the funding initially would join their colleagues in overturning a ruling that was in their favor? Would the members of the Judicial Court, convinced of the error of their ways by the eloquence of their fellow senators, join in that three-quarters majority and vote against their own ruling? We might like to think that our elected officials are that high minded, but experience and human nature convince us otherwise.
It is far more plausible that the Judicial Court would become highly politicized in much the same way that the U.S. Supreme Court has become. Members of the Judicial Court would exercise their powers to influence or kill legislation that they did not agree with and give their stamp of approval on bills that blatantly violated the constitution.
One could argue that this is the same case with the CAB as currently organized. Yet ambition always accompanies power, and I doubt that our student representatives would be able to resist the same temptations that plague politicians everywhere. The increased authority of the Judicial Court would attract the very type of ambitious person that we would least want to be there.
There is much that is problematic with the proposed changes to the CAB. They seek to solve a problem that does not exist and the faulty reasoning on which the referendums rest threaten to cause many problems of their own. The students of CSUN should reject the changes to the CAB and put a stop to this reckless experiment with the A.S. constitution.
Sean Paroski can be reached at email@example.com.