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ASSU executives, former nominees reflect on Constitutional Council process

In June, Brianna Pang ’13, Oz Hasbún ’13 and Alex Katz ’12 received an e-mail from ASSU president Angelina Cardona ’11 informing them of her intent to nominate them as members of the Constitutional Council, the judicial ruling body of the ASSU.

Pending confirmation by the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Hasbún, Katz and Pang, a Daily staffer, were told they would be filling the vacancies of three graduating members of the council. The bill to confirm their appointment, however, never made it to the Senate. In fact, it was never written.

Cardona and ASSU Vice President Kelsei Wharton ’12 decided to reopen the position to more applicants at the beginning of autumn quarter and conducted in-person interviews with each candidate at the beginning of October.

On Oct. 11, Pang, Hasbún and Katz each received another e-mail from Cardona, but this time with a different message: they had been replaced. Three new nominees, David Hoyt ’12, J’vona Ivory ’11 and Samir Siddhanti ’12 had been offered the three available council positions.

“I was pretty confused at first,” Pang said. “I did a lot of studying of the ASSU constitution over the summer, and I basically tried to prepare myself for the position.”

Katz said he agreed.

“I think it was unfair to the candidates to lead them on over the summer, and then to surprise us in the fall with a new decision,” Katz said.

The Constitutional Council

Mirroring the U.S. federal government, the powers of the ASSU are divided in three: the executive, headed by the ASSU president and vice president; the legislative, consisting of the Senate and the GSC; and the judicial, led by the Constitutional Council, a five-member panel, including four justices and one chair, that rules on questions involving the ASSU constitution.

Historically, the judicial branch has been the weakest — and least well known — of the three. Last year, only one case, the first in five years, was brought before the Constitutional Council.

Shooting Down Rumors

However, partially because of the replacement of the original three nominees, the Constitutional Council has received more attention than usual this year. At a GSC meeting on Oct. 13, Ryan Peacock, a graduate student in chemical engineering and ASSU executive cabinet member, attempted to put to rest rumors that the GSC had ulterior motives in seeking new nominees, a speculation posited by Otis Reid ’12 in an Oct. 12 Stanford Review blog post.

Pang was a GSC beat writer for the Daily last year, and Reid speculated that this might have affected the GSC’s partiality towards her nomination.

Peacock denies the claim.

“I strongly emphasized in the GSC meeting that [Reid’s] conclusion that the GSC didn’t like Brianna last year and that’s why she was withdrawn was completely incorrect,” Peacock said. “I can tell you serving on the GSC last year that we thought Brianna was great.”

Cardona also dismissed speculation that Pang’s writing for The Daily influenced the final decision and said Pang was in strong contention for a seat that will open in winter quarter.

“Brianna actually has a great relationship with the GSC, and their leadership actually thought she was one of the strongest applicants that we had,” Cardona said. “So she’s still highly being considered for the winter position if she’s still interested.”

She also shot down the notion that Katz’s position as editor in chief of The Stanford Review, a conservative publication, affected her decision, as Reid speculated it might have.

“People’s ideology didn’t play a role,” Cardona said. “I actually don’t know where on the political spectrum Samir, David or J’vona are.”

Unclear Nomination Procedure

Cardona cites the lack of a clear precedent as the reason behind the recall of the nominees. While the ASSU constitution states it is up to the president to fill any vacancy on the council, it doesn’t specify a procedure. After choosing three tentative names in June, Cardona said she felt the original process, which was just a paper application, was not as comprehensive as it should have been.

“After a lot of deliberation between Kelsei and I, we decided that we wanted to have a more thorough process, which included an interview component that we didn’t have last year,” Cardona said. “We felt that we rushed through the process in the spring and made decisions on three people very quickly.”

While five individuals applied for the position in the spring, that number doubled to ten this fall. Cardona said that the new candidates were simply stronger.

“The thing that changed was that we found other applicants who were more capable of fulfilling what we saw as the requirements to be on the council,” Cardona said.

She cited Siddhanti’s experience with Mock Trial, Hoyt’s performance on a mock case that each applicant was given and Ivory’s passion for law as the traits that, respectively, pushed them over the edge.

However, Cardona said she is concerned over the language in the ASSU constitution, which states that the chair of the Constitutional Council must be chosen within the first three weeks of the quarter by a majority vote. For a majority vote to be valid, there must be at least four members on the Council participating.

All three of the original candidates said they will not let this setback discourage them from getting involved with the ASSU in the future.

“I can’t say that I am content with the way things were handled,” Hasbún wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “However, I do know that I would never allow one bad experience to deter me from pursuing activities through which I believe I can make a positive impact at Stanford. Therefore, I may very well be involved with the ASSU in the future, but I would like to see more defined protocols set in place within the Constitution in regards to the Council’s nomination and confirmation processes.”

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