Widgets Magazine

Senate tables impeachment of Constitutional Council members

On Tuesday evening, all but one member of the Undergraduate Senate voted to table bills to impeach Constitutional Council members Brian Baran J.D. ’18 and Jonathan York J.D. ’18 until next meeting.  The Senate also discussed how to handle complaints about violations of campaign rules in the recent ASSU election.

(EDER LOMELI/The Stanford Daily)

Impeachments

Last week, the Senate began considering bills to impeach Baran and York over concerns about their conduct during the Constitutional Council’s recent hearing LSJUMB/KZSU v. Undergraduate Senate.

Previously, Senators pushing for impeachment accused Baran of “obnoxious” behavior toward members of the Senate during the hearing and criticized York for allegedly breaking procedure — particularly by not notifying senators of a public pre-hearing meeting.

Neither Baran nor York were present at last Tuesday’s Senate meeting, and last week both took issue with the Senate’s decision to commence discussion without them knowing that, for example, York could not attend due to a religious commitment. This Tuesday, Baran and York joined the Senate meeting to defend themselves.

The Senate ultimately introduced bills to censure Baran and York but will not vote on any measures relating to the Council members until next week. Censuring is a formal reprimand but would not affect Baran and York’s status on the Council.

York told The Daily after the meeting that he was pleased with how discussion went.

“I’m very happy the Senate chose to pursue a constructive dialogue with the Council instead of undermining its independence through impeachment,” he wrote in an email.

Constitutional Council members, senators and potentially the ASSU Exec plan to meet some time before the next Senate session to discuss improvements to the Constitutional Council process.

Opening, Baran said he recognizes potential for improvement in the Constitutional Council’s process. He argued that impeachment should only be used as a last resort and criticized what he saw as an abuse of the Senate’s power raising “serious institutional concern.” Other meeting attendees also raised concerns about the potential ramifications of impeachment for separation of powers in the ASSU, York noted.

However, Senator Hattie Gawande ’18 believed Baran and York demonstrated serious unprofessionalism that should not go unaddressed. In her statement read out by Ben Schwartz ’18, a proxy senator stepping in for her, Gawande recalled that Baran “ceaselessly interrupted” her and refused to stop even when asked to do so. Gawande said his behavior humiliated her and blocked the Council from hearing the Senate’s case.

Baran responded that the interruption was not due to any malicious intent but a different understanding of the format of the discussion. He stressed that his style of questioning reflected his law school training to “explore arguments further,” adding that if the Senate wanted to adopt a different format, Baran and York were willing to “go through a different format in the future.”

As for the allegations of breaking procedure, York said the issue of not notifying the Senate about a public hearing boiled down to different interpretations of the Constitution rather than a will to circumvent rules. The Council read the Constitution to not require giving notice, he said. Senate Chair Shanta Katipamula ’19 told The Daily she believes the issue is not yet resolved.

Katipamula said she believed that throughout the defense, Baron and York had not “proved to have any remorse.

Baran pointed out later to The Daily that he did apologize for causing offense, although he has also said he is “not going to apologize for asking tough questions.” York also referenced an email that he sent Katipamula and Gawande shortly after a hearing apologizing for Baran’s behavior, noting that he never received a response (Katipamula said she was too demoralized after the session to feel comfortable replying).

Most of the Senate, however, thought that impeachment was too extreme a punishment following the case, especially considering that LSJUMB/KZSU v. Undergraduate Senate marked all Baran and York’s first time serving on a Council case.

“I don’t think Brian’s behavior is necessarily appropriate,” said Senator Carson Smith ’19.  “But I do think we should try and see if there is a better way moving forward, because I feel like we are building on our new constitution.”

Senator Mylan Gray ’19 echoed Smith.

“[The Senate] needs to make sure this is not personal,” he said. Referring to ambiguity and lack of guidelines on the impeachment process, he added, “This [issue] is clearly structural, and we need to make sure that this structure can be fixed.”

The Senate will hold a discussion on the procedure and explanation of constitution on Thursday.

ASSU Election

Elections Commissioner Paul Serrato ’19 said he regards this year of elections as “one of the most successful,” with a significant increase in voter turnout rate for both undergraduate and graduate elections compared to previous years.

Schwartz quoted a statement from Gawande stating that she has received reports of senior class president slates, including the winning slate, Gradu18, campaigning after the deadline to stop. Luka Fatuesi ’17, assistant financial manager of the ASSU, said he also received complaints of other campaign violations by various candidates.

“I think the Senate has the authority and interest…to contact the Constitutional Council, and if there is any kind of violations, the candidate should be disqualified,” Gawande’s statement read.

Schwartz elaborated on the statement, saying that Senate’s role is to certify candidates fairly, but that the Constitutional Council is the governing body that decides the punishment for campaign violations. Emphasizing the authority vested in Senate in certifying election results, Schwartz discussed the body’s responsibility to ensure the upholding of regulations by all candidates and slates.

“Disqualification, while an appropriate consequence for violations of election regulations, does not necessarily have to be the only means of punishment,” he said. “That is up to the Constitutional Council to decide.”

Nanci Howe, associate dean and director of SAL, stressed that the Elections Commission has always handled campaigning violations.

“Also, I have never known any candidates who have been disqualified,” she said. ”These regulations are really hard to determine.”

Madilyn Ontiveros ’18, a member of the Gradu18 slate,  told The Daily over email that while the slate is “confident that all of [its] campaigning was within campaign guidelines,” it is “happy to cooperate with the Senate and Constitutional Council on any inquiries that they would like to make.”

With the exception of three abstaining votes, the senators voted to certify all election results except the senior class presidents’ and tabled the campaign violation issue.

 

Contact Celia Chen at xinuo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Senate had voted to censure Baran and York, when in fact it will not vote on either censure or impeachment until next week. The Daily regrets this error. The article has also been updated to correct a paraphrase of one of Baran’s quotes and to add additional information from Baran, York and Katipamula.

The piece has also been updated to reflect Gradu18’s response to allegations of campaign violations.