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Change in UJ procedure leads to mixed reactions

Published: September 21, 2007
Section: News


The Union Judiciary (UJ) announced Sept. 7 a new policy in deciding Constitutional conflicts, sources within the UJ told the Hoot. This new policy, according to Chief Justice Jamie Ansorge 09, allows parties to forgo the previously- established trial system in favor of an expedited decision by the UJ.

According to an e-mail sent to the Union and forwarded to The Hoot by Ansorge, the Union Judiciary has voted unanimously to add a capability to our court procedures (as is allowed in Section 7 of our duties). The Union Constitution grants the UJ jurisdiction over disagreements regarding the constitutionality of any Union Government legislation, decision, or action and on any and all other questions of constitutionality within the Union.

Any Union Officer can request a session of the UJ be called in order to interpret the Union Constitution. This may include any matter pertaining to the jurisdiction of the UJ as mentioned above, the e-mail continued. If one Justice of the Court grants certiorari (the right to review) to such a request, the UJ will deliberate, craft an opinion, and pass such decision by majority vote, as in the case of a regular trial proceeding. This decision will be binding, and is the responsibility of the President to enforce.

Sometimes our elected Union officers need a quick and compelling answer to basic constitutional questions. As such, we have attempted to grant such a solution, said Ansorge to The Hoot. This new procedure was born out of the compelling circumstances of specific cases we've received in the last several weeks, and out of the intentions of this court to provide more simple and helpful procedures.

He added that we chose this new procedure in order to remove avoidable and arduous obstacles to impart practical solutions. In many of these cases, it is not a person, but the constitution that is in question, and as such, should be put on trial. Therefore, it seemed unfair to name a defendant and launch a full public trial when need did not dictate so. All petitioners and parties named in the claim were informed of their right to trial, but all declined.

When asked about this decision possibly eroding the integrity of what had previously been an exclusively trial-based system, Ansorge replied that we have given all parties in all cases filed under this procedure the option to file their claims under the existing trial procedure, and to be considered as such. However, when presented with this second option, all petitioners opted for the new procedure.

Some students, however, had major concerns about the new procedure. [The UJ] now has the right to basically interpret the constitution if there isn't anything that people aren't clear about he can make a decision without the UJ going to trial, said Union Secretary Michael Goldman 08. He mentioned to The Hoot that when Jon Kane 10 wished to run as Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Representative, I interpreted it as senior class rep, and without going to trial, he came up to me and said there wouldn't be a case, saying that it means not what I think it means.

Former UJ Chief Justice Sam Dewey 06 said his concerns were twofold: First, what the UJ did was reversed a longstanding decision the problem was initially was the manner of which they did it. Just to give you a background in history, during my junior and senior year, there was a lot of discussion for the UJ to make advisory
decisionswe discussed it for awhile, and we decided it would be inappropriate judicially because we were only supposed to give judicial power. Its not an official court, but in a certain degree its supposed to function like a real court if there is a conflictwe are supposed to give resolution. You trust that they will decide the case on its merits.

Furthermore, said Dewey, he felt that the UJs decision showed disregard for legal precedent. They just issued a blanket statement, we're going to do it this way. While I suppose they do have the power to do it this way, in my opinion, it looks really bad. It makes the court look like they don't care about the law, that they'll do what they want. If you're going to throw out a 35-page unanimous decision, you ought to be able to explain why you're doing that, say 'this is why we're doing this.

Dewey also stated that this new procedure extends the UJs reach beyond its previous limits of authority. First, under my reading of the constitution, and indeed the unanimous reading of the court prior to this, was that you had to have a concrete decent case and controversy, he added. UJ shall have judicial powerbasically that limits the UJs power the power to set up our own rules are defined by general judicial poweressentially they have the power to handle the rules responsibly. The constitution, in its outset, said that only these sorts of cases are your responsibility.

He added that the court can make a decision without a trial, without hearing any sort of argument thats a scary thing to me. Its intellectually irresponsible to write decisions without hearing an argument. He added that the adversarial process can illuminate decision-making: Its really complicated if you forget one thing, it can destroy your entire argument. Its important to hear from other people with other interestsyou want everyone who has an interest in this to be heard.

Finally, Dewey stated, that because the UJ would not have to announce the streamlined decisions, the new procedure could be exploited by the Union to repress student advocacy. If [a student] has this rule that hes made clear that he doesn't like and he's going to challenge, and the commissioner of the Union decides to nip this in the bud, the commissioner goes to the UJtheres a secret proceeding, no one knows about it. Lets say two days later [the student] files a case: the UJ says weve already decided [the student] didn't know about this, didn't have a chance to argue this. Its a unilateral, one-sided decision, [saying] I'm going to get a quick advisory opinion on that.

We are trying to make the UJ more useful, active, and approachable then ever before. To our knowledge, this court has already received more constitutional claims and inquiries than any court in Brandeis history, said Ansorge. It's the same court voting on the same issue with the same evidence… without the nuisance of a full trial. If there were a direct, irreconcilable conflict between one or more parties, we would not hesitate to hold adversarial trial proceedings, if granted certiorari. We do not see any inherent bias. However… we are constantly considering how to further validate this procedure. We will focus on possible revisions and development
in the coming weeks.