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College Republicans file Constitutional Council case against Undergraduate Senate, challenging D’Souza funding rejection

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

The Stanford College Republicans (SCR) filed a Constitutional Council case against the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate on Friday night. The College Republicans allege that the Senate violated the student government’s constitution in its decision to deny SCR funding to host controversial conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

In addition, SCR argues that the Senate did not have the authority to reject a December ASSU internal review that would have funded the event, and that even if the Senate had that authority, it did not reach the required two-thirds majority in order to reject the review.

According to SCR’s complaint, the Senate violated Article I of the ASSU Constitution, in which it states that “[t]he Association shall enact no legislation … abridging the freedom of speech.”

The Constitutional Council will hold a public meeting on Wednesday to determine the frivolity of the case. If at least three of the Council’s five members do not find the case “frivolous” — defined according to Black’s Law Dictionary as “a legal move in a lawsuit clearly intended merely to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition” — the case would proceed, and SCR and Senate representatives would present arguments to the Council. Interested parties would be allowed to submit amicus briefs to the Council.

If the case is found to be frivolous, SCR could appeal to the Council to reconsider its decision.

As part of its case, SCR submitted three witness statements to the Council, including testimony from Senator and SCR member Faa Diallo ’21, who argued that there was anti-College Republicans bias at the Nov. 25 appropriations committee meeting in which the funding request was first discussed.

Diallo alleged that Senate chair Leya Elias ’21 and Senator Jamie Seney ’21 were opposed to funding D’Souza’s visit on the grounds that they did not want to fund “bigotry.”

According to Diallo, Elias suggested that the Senate give SCR $1, while Seney did not want to give SCR “even a cent.”

In addition, Diallo wrote, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Gabe Rosen ’21 proposed that the Senate fund $16.50 — the cost of one roundtrip Caltrain ticket from San Francisco International Airport to Stanford and back — of SCR’s $6,000 request. Despite Senator Michal Skreta’s objections that the appropriations committee was acting in an “unprincipled” manner, the committee voted according to Rosen’s proposal.

Elias, Seney, Rosen and Skreta did not respond to The Daily’s repeated requests for comment.

As part of its argument that the Senate has discriminated against conservative viewpoints, SCR also cited the Senate’s decision to reject the results of the internal review conducted by ASSU financial manager LoMo Phillips ’17 and ASSU governance and special projects manager Luka Fatuesi ’17 in response to concerns over inconsistencies in the standard grant funding process.

At an “emergency” meeting on Dec. 9, the Senate voted 6-5 to reject all of the review’s recommendations over what Elias termed “contextual inconsistencies.” Rosen, who voted to accept the review’s recommendations, called the vote “bizarre,” “unprofessional” and “improperly conducted.”

Rosen, who is currently serving his third term on Senate and his second as the only returning senator, said that a combination of high turnover and minimal written guidance on appropriations practices have contributed to a dearth of institutional knowledge among senators. Rosen noted that more than one senator expressed confusion over the appropriations process during the emergency meeting.

SCR’s case argues that the Senate’s rejection of the internal review was the “culmination of an organized campaign by leftist activists who aimed to use the various governing bodies of the Association to prevent SCR from hosting Dinesh D’Souza on campus.”

Prior to the Senate’s vote, two petitions — each garnering hundreds of signatures — called for the ASSU to deny SCR funding, and for the Office of Community Standards (OCS) to investigate SCR “for promoting hatred and attacking freedom of religion on campus.” Jewish Student Association (JSA) member Sarah Myers, who authored the petitions, called D’Souza anti-semitic, pointing to past actions by the filmmaker such as retweeting a tweet including the hashtag “#BurnTheJews” and joking about the Holocaust in a visit to Stony Brook University.

Beyond viewpoint discrimination, SCR pointed to specific clauses in the ASSU Constitution and Senate bylaws to argue that the Senate did not have the power to reject the recommendations of the internal review, and that, if it did have that power, the Senate failed to reject the recommendations by a sufficient margin.

According to the ASSU Constitution, the University “may block the distribution of funds derived from a Undergraduate Student Activities Fee to any cause that it finds to be contrary to the policies and/or regulations established by the University, or outside of the educational mission of the University.” In such a case, the financial manager would act to carry out the University’s wishes.

From this clause, SCR argued that “to remain logically consistent” the financial manager would also have the power to grant funds without needing to consult the Senate, so long as the financial manager is acting in accordance with the University.

Phillips declined to comment on the details of SCR’s complaint.

According to a witness statement submitted to the Constitutional Council on behalf of SCR Executive Director Quinn Barry ’21, SAL director Nanci Howe told SCR that “the university was aware of the proceedings and following the situation closely.” Quinn added that Howe told him and SCR treasurer Ben Esposito ’21 that it would be “extremely unlikely” for the Senate to reject the findings of the internal review.

In his witness statement, Richard Beleson ’76, who offered to fund the entire D’Souza event, wrote that he was told by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole on Dec. 14 that she “wanted SCR to have the opportunity for Dinesh D’Souza to speak on campus … [and] that if the SCR went to the appropriate persons on campus the vote to deny funding would be declared unconstitutional.”

“She explained to me that the ASSU Constitution has clauses on free speech protections similar to the US Constitution,” Beleson wrote. “Consequently, both the treatment of SCR’s funding request and the vote denying funding for the Dinesh D’Souza event were in violation of the ASSU Constitution.”

In an email originally sent to SCR President John Rice-Cameron ’20, Brubaker-Cole confirmed that “the university generally supports all student-sponsored speaker events as long as all policies are followed.” She also confirmed that issues of “viewpoint discrimination” had been brought to her attention regarding the D’Souza event.

“I do believe that a path forward for [SCR’s] request would be for [SCR] to look into ASSU’s commitment to free speech for all students as guaranteed by their constitution, in effect a contractual agreement,” Brubaker-Cole wrote.

According to the SCR complaint, Barry’s and Beleson’s witness statements indicate that “Stanford University clearly wanted the funds distributed to the groups” and thus that the Senate did not have the authority to reject the internal review.

Even if the Senate were to have this authority, SCR argued that the Senate would have needed a two-thirds majority to reject the internal review. SCR’s claim is supported by Senate bylaws, which state that the full Senate requires a two-thirds vote to approve a change to funding policies, even though the appropriations committee can approve such a change via a simple majority.  

“[T]he Internal Review was seen as part of a set of new guidelines for the Standard Grant process moving forward and fundamental to making the Standard Grant process fairer and more accountable,” SCR wrote.

The complaint did not elaborate on how the internal review represented new funding policies, and both Esposito and Phillips declined to comment.

The formal complaint follows weeks of debate regarding the Senate’s decision to twice reject SCR’s request for fund D’Souza’s visit.

Currently, D’Souza’s visit has been “confirmed” by D’Souza for Feb. 28, pending funding.

In his witness statement, Beleson wrote that he has volunteered to donate “100 percent of the required funds for the Dinesh D’Souza event to occur.” Additionally, Beleson offered to reimburse the ASSU for SCR’s funding request so that the ASSU can “provide similar funding for a speaker with a different point of view.”

However, a policy published on the University’s Office of Special Events and Protocol website requires that no more than 50 percent of the cost of events requiring security and “extraordinary resources” be funded by off-campus sources. Unless SCR is able to obtain on-campus funding for D’Souza’s visit, under OSEP guidelines, it will not be allowed to fundraise from outside donors.

SCR’s decision to file a Constitutional Council case against the Senate comes a month after the University of California at Berkeley announced a legal settlement with the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation — a conservative youth group working with SCR to bring D’Souza to campus — over Berkeley’s allegedly discriminatory policies towards conservative speakers.

In a Facebook post that has since been shared more than 50 times, SCR threatened to “pursue all available legal means to ensure that [the D’Souza] event goes forward,” noting that it had consulted First Amendment lawyers on the matter.

SCR treasurer Ben Esposito ’21 declined to confirm whether SCR had hired or planned to hire legal counsel for the Constitutional Council case.

“SCR does not comment on pending litigation or constitutional council cases,” Esposito wrote.

 

Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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