GSB Supreme Court, adviser resign after line item bill fails

Katelynn Mccollough

All nine members of the Government of the Student Body Supreme Court, as well as their adviser, resigned from their positions April 24 after a bill failed to pass in the GSB Senate during the April 23 meeting.

The bill would have created an account for the judicial branch to use as funds for branch initiatives throughout the year. It asked for a minimum of $750 to be allocated to the account each year with a cap of $1200. 

If the bill — which failed with a 17-11-0 vote — had passed, the judicial branch would have been able to spend the money in the account without having to first seek approval from the Senate.

Currently, the judicial branch must go to the Senate for all funding requests, a process that one former justice stated as “holding [the supreme court’s] opinions hostage.”

“The issue that we look at from the Court’s perspective is you cannot have a court that is dependent on the whims of the Senate,” said Ryan Peterson, a former justice who had served on the GSB Court for six years.

“We’ve been trying to develop an actual Court structure that can hear student cases and appeal the decisions of the Senate or the executive branch.”

Peterson said that the Court can’t work under that current structure as it may have to hear a case involving a member of the Senate or the finance committee.

“For us to rule against the finance committee jeopardizes any possibility that we could receive money in the future,” stated Peterson. Caytlin Hentzel, former chief justice, equated the Court to being treated as a club that must approach the Senate for funding, not as an equal, independent branch.

The account the Supreme Court was seeking would have been very similar to the Executive Initiative Account that currently exists in the GSB bylaws for the executive branch. This account, according to current GSB bylaws, has a minimum of $1500 and a maximum of $5000.

However, many of the executive branch’s initiatives require more funding than what is available in its account, so it also frequently requests money from the Senate for projects.

Hamad Abbas, GSB Senator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, voted against the bill as he felt uncomfortable with the fact that the judicial branch would not have to justify the minimum amount of funding each year and what it would go toward.

“I didn’t think the funding they were requesting was going to solve the problem they were trying to fix,” Abbas said, who also stated that since the Senate deals with student money, they must justify every cent.

Gabriel Walsh, speaker of the Senate, said the funds in the account could be used for “professional development” of the Court in performing its duties. The bill states that Supreme Court members “periodically visits law school professors, judges and courts in Story County, Polk County and other parts of Iowa.”

Nathan Vos, chairman of the GSB public relations committee and a member of the finance committee, took part in writing the bill, and he described the Court’s use of requested funds as a means of professional development.

“In previous years, the Court hadn’t done that,” Vos said. “They didn’t go travel, they didn’t go study other trials and cases and they weren’t very good at what they did.”

Several members of GSB, including President Hillary Kletscher, explained that the bill had an uphill battle to pass the Senate on April 23 due to the number of senators present.

Since the bill requested a change in the GSB bylaws, it required a two-thirds vote from all seated senators to pass. Twenty-eight senators voted on the bill; however, there are 37 seated senators. This means if only three senators voted no, the bill would not have passed.

Kletscher also said that communication was an issue.

“From my perspective, in terms of leading up to the bill, I wasn’t contacted by any members of the Supreme Court in regards to the line item last night. Quite frankly, that’s something that I could veto if it had passed,” Kletscher said. “I’m not sure if we’re ready to actually change this until we sit down and have a conversation about it.”

Kletscher also explained that the treasurer for GSB, who is appointed by the president, is there to work with the Supreme Court to develop a budget that can be presented at regular allocations meetings in the spring, a resource that she said has been underutilized.

The newly sworn in president said the Supreme Court has not often sought funding in the past and has still been capable of serving the student body.

“Some of the items they would use their money for aren’t necessary to hear student requests because of how other pieces of our budget are set up,” Kletsher said, explaining that GSB members have funds readily available for printing materials and room reservations. “I fully believe they still have the capability to hear students and see court cases without having their own budget.”

Walsh, who supported the bill, said the current structure creates a conflict of interest.

“It’s [the Supreme Court] a branch of GSB that’s supposed to be entirely nonpolitical, and making them come request funding has politicized the Court more,” Walsh said.

The GSB Supreme Court can hear cases from members within GSB, students and student organizations that deal with issues concerning a GSB branch. The court can institute actions — such as an injunction that would stop an action of the Senate — after hearing such cases.

Hentzel said that it was a goal of the Court this year to try and spread more awareness of the Court’s resources to the student body.

The Supreme Court has already heard two cases in the spring 2014 semester.

Supreme Court members also can be called to serve on the All-University Judiciary committee that deals with cases involving violations of Iowa State’s conduct code.

Kletscher said that GSB would work to recruit new Supreme Court members at the start of the fall 2014 semester. However, Peterson said that he would consider coming back to the Court if it was seen as an equal branch.