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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Student Senate removes at-large seats, special election found constitutional

The+Student+Supreme+Court+judges+listen+to+the+appeal+made+by+Vishnu+Avva+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+30.+Avvas+claim+is+the+third+to+be+submitted+regarding+the+special+election+for+the+Senate+Seat+Reapportionment+Act.
Allison Campbell
The Student Supreme Court judges listen to the appeal made by Vishnu Avva on Tuesday, Jan. 30. Avva’s claim is the third to be submitted regarding the special election for the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the Supreme Court public hearing and its results.

The Supreme Court has unanimously decided that the special election passage of the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act is constitutional.

According to the Supreme Court’s order released Feb. 1, the Court interpreted the 7% voter turnout requirement to only apply to special elections started by the student body’s petition; the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act originated in the Senate.

The Supreme Court also stated the Election Commission still can enact the constitutional amendment, and the Court lifted its injunction preventing the certification of the election results.

The Court engaged in an hour and a half of debate following the public hearing. According to the court order, the document released is an “informal and emergency response” to the special election appeal, and the Court will provide a “comprehensive opinion” later.

Leading up to the hearing

The Student Government Association (SGA) has received a formal appeal of the special election where students voted to remove at-large senator seats while increasing college-based seats.

The Student Supreme Court justices voted 4-0 to accept the case and placed an injunction on the formal certification of the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act, which was initially intended to occur on Friday, Jan. 26.

The appeal, submitted by former SGA Sen. Vishnu Avva, argues that passing the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act is unconstitutional because the special election did not have 7% of students vote. Only 2.5% of the student body participated.

This is the third appeal submitted to the Supreme Court regarding the special election process. At-large Sen. Andrew Bobbitt submitted two appeals, first on Jan. 22 and then on Jan. 23. The Supreme Court denied both requests and found the process constitutional.

According to Article IX of SGA’s Constitution, a Constitutional amendment passes if it receives “a simple majority of votes” in an election. Article IX further states that a constitutional amendment “submitted in referendum” only goes into effect when passed with 7% of students voting in an election.

Based on public hearing statements, Avva and Jay Thompson, the primary author of the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act, hold different views of what “referendum” means in the Constitution.

Avva claims that based on the article’s context, “election” and “referendum” are used interchangeably within this section; Avva’s interpretation would mean all constitutional amendments would need at least 7% of the student body to vote and not just a simple majority of votes.

In his appeal, Avva also argues that passing the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act violates SGA’s bylaws based on Article IX, which states a constitutional amendment with a majority vote will be passed if it meets “the minimum number of votes” stated in the Constitution.

Avva claims that this means every constitutional amendment only passes if there is 7% voter participation.

Prior to Avva’s appeal, SGA Adviser Gabriel Fonseca confirmed with The Sunflower in an email that since this Constitutional amendment was brought up in the Senate, it only needs a simple majority vote.

Avva’s full appeal on the special election can be read here.

Supreme Court public hearing

The Student Supreme Court convened for the first time in the school year at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 to hear Avva’s appeal against last week’s special election process. The public hearing was initially planned for Feb. 1 and then moved to Jan. 30.

Avva reiterated the main arguments written in his appeal.

“I’m here arguing not against the amendment itself, but against the process in which it was passed,” Avva said.

Thompson, who is also the government oversight chairperson, argued that the Senate Seat Reapportionment Act had been passed constitutionally.

Thompson emphasized that there are two ways to pass a constitutional amendment, and he argues that the 7% voter participation does not apply to amendments introduced in the Senate. According to Thompson, amendments originating in the Senate require two-thirds of Student Senate votes and a majority of student body votes.

Thompson said his interpretation is “supported by historical precedent,” listing several constitutional amendments that passed with less than 7% voter turnout.

In his closing statement, Avva said that historical precedent does not necessarily make the process constitutional.

“If a criminal gets away with his crime who finally gets caught, are those crimes okay?” Avva said.

Thompson said in his closing statement that he found it disrespectful to assume a “small group of senators and one president could install tyranny with power grabs.”

“(It) represents contemptuousness for the right elected officials to execute their duties,” Thompson said.

Read the Supreme Court’s order here.

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Allison Campbell, News Editor
Allison Campbell is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. Campbell is a junior pursuing a journalism and media production degree with a minor in English. Campbell hopes to pursue a career in writing or editing after graduation. They use any pronouns.

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