Three new members of the Georgetown University Student Association constitutional council took office Feb. 14 after the GUSA senate voted to approve their nominations.
Allie Phillips (COL ’20), William Morris (COL ’19) and Mariah Johnson (COL ’21) were confirmed as councilors, and Phillips was confirmed as chair of the council, ending nearly a month of uncertainty regarding whether the council would be filled during the GUSA election season.
The three-member council, charged with interpreting GUSA bylaws, often adjudicates election-related disputes that are left unresolved by the GUSA Election Commission.
The previous group of councilors — Russell Wirth (COL ’19), Mattie Haag (COL ’18) and Jonathan Lanz (COL ’19) — resigned simultaneously Jan. 19 amid tensions with the GUSA senate, including some senators’ efforts to impeach Wirth for trying to hold his seat while studying abroad and an increasingly hostile relationship following the council’s invalidation of a senate-approved referendum in January 2016.
“I do not expect that we will play a role in the upcoming election,” Phillips wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Unless a petition is filed that the Election Commission incorrectly applied the rules, or did so with bias, there is no capacity for the Council to act. If a petition is filed, then we will adjudicate the case at that time.”
Morris agreed, adding that the Election Commission “has done a stellar job managing this campaign season.”
“In my view, the best role for the Constitutional Council in an election is none at all,” Morris wrote in an email to The Hoya.
GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) nominated Phillips, Morris and Johnson to serve on the Constitutional Council on Feb. 9.
The application process for candidates consisted of a written application and interviews conducted by the executive, according to Mack and Andino. Mack and Andino said the new councilors’ different class years are an asset.
“Allie, Mariah and William all stood out as thoughtful, dedicated applicants who would bring a diverse set of perspectives to the Council,” Mack and Andino wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is a major benefit that the three of them come from different class years and will be able to build institutional memory.”
However, neither Phillips nor Morris expect to be involved in this year’s election or referendum.
Mack and Andino first nominated Johnson for chair and Phillips and Morris to be councilors. The senate considered these nominations Feb. 11 but ultimately voted against Johnson’s and Morris’s confirmation because of concerns about Johnson’s impartiality and experience, according to GUSA Senate Speaker Ben Baldwin (SFS ’19).
“During the course of the Feb. 11 meeting, it was discovered there was an issue involving [Johnson] and a potential campaign rules violation that raised concerns among senators,” Baldwin wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Baldwin added that many senators felt Morris should serve as chair rather than Johnson given his experience in the senate, which involved writing bylaws, and in previously arguing the referendum case before the Constitutional Council in January 2016.
GUSA Senator Sam Dubke (SFS ’21) also expressed concerns about Johnson’s involvement with Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) and Naba Rahman’s (SFS ’19) campaign for the GUSA executive. He cited an email Johnson sent to various cultural groups on campus Feb. 6, two days before the official campaign start date. Sending campaign emails before the official campaign period violates GUSA campaign rules.
Both Johnson and Morris said they had minimal interaction with GUSA executive campaigns when questioned by senators, according to Dubke.
“They said that they had never been in candidate meetings, had never strategized with any campaign, and had never sent out emails on behalf of any campaign. I then quoted an email in which [Johnson] reached out to various cultural groups on campus on behalf of the [Nair] and [Rahman] campaign,” Dubke wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This directly contradicted what [Johnson] had previously stated about her campaign involvement.”
GUSA Election Commissioner Grady Willard (SFS ’18) resolved Johnson’s campaign rules violation at the time without incident, Baldwin said.
At the Feb. 11 session, GUSA senator Nick Zeffiro (SFS ’18) also questioned whether Johnson had sufficient experience to chair the council.
“While she seemed quite capable of serving on the council in my opinion, I did not find her as a freshman, brand new to GUSA, and unaware of many GUSA bylaws and our history as qualified as William Morris, a junior, who served in the GUSA Senate with me last year and even argued a case before the past Constitutional Council,” Zeffiro wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Johnson declined to comment on the confirmation process, apart from saying it “followed guidelines set out by the GUSA constitution.”
After debate, 10 senators voted to confirm the nominees, 10 voted against and four abstained. Without the required simple majority, the proposal failed to pass.
GUSA senators rejected the original nomination with the intent of confirming a different chair, according to Zeffiro. The senators wanted Mack, who attended the meeting, to immediately re-nominate Morris as chair and Johnson as councilor. Mack declined because Andino was not present, Zeffiro said.
Only the executive can alter the candidates’ positions as chair or councilor; the senate does not have the authority to rearrange nominees’ roles, according to Baldwin.
“After much debate, both of the nominees were voted down,” Baldwin wrote. “The decision was made to rearrange the order of the nominees and reintroduce them during a special session of the Senate.”
On Feb. 14, the senate reconvened and confirmed Phillips as chair and Morris and Johnson as councilors. All 21 senators who were present voted in favor of the three councilors’ confirmation.
Dubke said he believes in Johnson’s impartiality, despite doubting that she had enough experience for the position of chair.
GUSA executive elections for president and vice president are set for Feb. 22. The vote also includes a referendum to change senate elections from geographic to class year-based representation and update protections in GUSA bylaws.