The Georgetown University Student Association’s Constitutional Council will address a suit filed by two students that seeks to overturn the results of last week’s referendum to establish a semesterly fee that would go toward a fund benefiting the descendants of the GU272.
Rowan Saydlowski (COL ’21) and Chris Castaldi-Moller (SFS ’21) submitted the suit claiming the referendum, which passed with 66.1% of students voting to approve, violated GUSA’s constitution and bylaws. (Full Disclosure: Saydlowski currently serves on The Hoya’s Editorial Board). The Constitutional Council is collecting documents from Saydlowski and Castaldi-Moller, GUSA and the Ethics and Oversight Committee, and the general public before hearing oral arguments at its hearing Wednesday.
The referendum was attached to the spring senate elections and marked the highest voter turnout in recorded Georgetown student government electoral history.
The suit aims to bring attention to the violations of the GUSA constitution and regulations by the referendum and promote transparency within GUSA, according to Castaldi-Moller.
“We submitted the suit because it is abundantly clear that the Election Commission, the Ethics & Oversight Committee, and GUSA as a whole violated their own Constitution, By-Laws and ethical regulations in the referendum process,” Castaldi-Moller wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Regardless of one’s perspective on the goals of the referendum, students should all be able to agree that there is nothing more important to any government than ensuring that it follows the laws that regulate it.”
The suit claims that GUSA held the referendum illegitimately and that GUSA bylaws dictate that the organization can only hold referenda regarding constitutional amendments. Since the referendum extended beyond this purview, the referendum results must be nullified, according to the suit.
“The wide scope and egregious nature of these violations make clear that the Referendum Concerning the Establishment of a New GU272 Legacy and Creation of the Reconciliation Contribution must be invalidated due to flawed, failed, and illegal execution of GUSA’s governing laws,” the suit reads.
The suit also claims oversight of the referendum was clouded by an unresolved conflict of interest because the chair of the Ethics and Oversight Committee, Dylan Hughes (COL ’19), cosponsored the original GU272 referendum legislation and oversaw referendum complaint management. The Ethics and Oversight Committee is in charge of ensuring that no conflicts of interest are present or likely in any area of GUSA, including the committee itself, according to the GUSA bylaws.
The cosponsorship of the referendum legislation did not constitute a conflict of interest with their position as chair of the Ethics and Oversight Committee, Hughes said.
“I did not campaign on either side of the referendum, which the complaint fails to mention. Cosponsorship does not equate to campaigning or a conflict,” Hughes wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I cosponsored the referendum because I helped to draft and edit the referendum’s technical content and because I believe it’s important for students to be able to vote on and discuss these issues.”
Saydlowski and Castaldi-Moller also claim that the Election Commission did not clarify the appeals process for election complaints and failed to accurately describe the referendum to voters, a requirement outlined in the GUSA bylaws.
William Morris (COL ’19), the chairman of the Constitutional Council, notified members of GUSA and the Election Commission about the suit during an April 14 senate meeting. The suit was filed to the Constitutional Council an hour before the meeting, during which GUSA senators were scheduled to confirm the outcome of the referendum.
The suit was filed to the Constitutional Council, GUSA’s interpretive body. The Constitutional Council serves as the final appellate board for issues concerning GUSA and organizations receiving GUSA funding, according to its website.
The Constitutional Council decided unanimously Sunday night to hear the case. GUSA will not be able to confirm the outcome of the referendum until the case is heard, and the Constitutional Council plans on hearing arguments for the suit against the referendum April 17 and reaching a decision on the case over Easter break, according to Morris.
The Constitutional Council most recently invalidated the results of a referendum on a constitutional amendment to abolish the GUSA senate and replace it with a new, elected assembly in 2017. The ruling stated that the senate violated GUSA bylaws requiring full details of the referendum be released 14 days prior to voting.
GUSA senators voiced disapproval of the April 17 date at the GUSA meeting Sunday, saying that many students would be on break.
The referendum was a step forward for the university in addressing its past and the suit counteracts possible forward movement, according to newly-elected senator Olivia Kleier (SFS ’22).
“I don’t know I just personally felt like there was no real basis to their claims. I understand, it just seemed very technical to me and less about the referendum itself which really bothered me.” Kleier said. “I feel like that would be really unfair and counteractive to the activism that the students have been doing on campus.”
The Constitutional Council is sworn to protect the rights afforded to every Georgetown student and will fairly consider the case, according to a statement released Sunday night.
“The Constitutional Council recognizes that this case may cause great frustration since it seems to undercut the historic results of the GU272 Referendum,” the statement reads. “In spite of this perception, the Constitutional Council remains fully dedicated to supporting democracy within the Georgetown University Student Association.”
This article was updated April 15 to clarify the claims of the suit.