For those who saw the announcement, Ryan McElhaney and Gideon Klionsky are suing the Elections Commission for prohibiting white students from participating in the election of the Racial Minority Senator and Racial Minority member of F-Board. Astonishingly, the Union Judiciary has agreed to hear the case against the Elections Commission.
This is problematic on so many levels. Whatever you feel about the position of the Racial Minority Senator the fact that the UJ, a body comprised of five white individuals, can dismantle the position without any input from the student body is outrageous. To make it worse, the parties most affected by the potential ruling, racial minority students, have absolutely no say in the process. The named respondent in the case is the Elections Commission, which probably doesn’t give a damn about the position to begin with. This case is subverting the Democratic process and allowing five white justices to decide the fate of representation of racial minority students.
The merits of the case are a different issue altogether. Any student can register, or even change their registration, with the University to ‘Other’ if they so please and can run for the position of Racial Minority Senator. Will a white person who runs for the position be judged and mocked? Yes, probably, and deservedly so, but they still have a legal outlet to pursue the position if they please.
In addition, having the position does not ‘discriminate’ against white students. It simply gives a spot on the Senate specifically for a community that has distinct needs. They might try to argue that racial minority students have unfair representation, but so do lots of other groups of people on campus. Ridgewood, for instance, is heavily over-represented in the Senate. There are just 150 people living in Ridgewood, and they have one Senator in the Senate. East, where 400 people live, also has just one Senator. No one is claiming this is discrimination against East quad residents.
But ultimately, that is unimportant. Maybe the position is outdated and needs to go. I’m not convinced that it is the best way to ensure minority voices are heard on campus. But I am positive that this UJ case is a sham. I don’t think Brandeis students will stand as an all white judiciary eliminates the representation of students of color. We need an open exchange, a democratic dialogue, about how to best represent minority voices, and this is not it.
5 responses to “Injustice to Racial Minorities”
I can’t speak to the legal merits of this suit; I’ll defer to the other commenters on that.
The argument that the members of UJ are unqualified to decide on this case by virtue of being white is absurd. TIt could be argued that this isn’t a case for the UJ, but that’s just one of the two main points in this post.
A decision on the existence of a Racial Minority Senator will not be democratic to the extent that it is made by members of racial minority groups, it will be democratic to the extent that the community affected by the existence of a Racial Minority Senator, i.e. Brandeis, is fairly represented.
I feel badly that the members of the UJ have been thrust into the middle of this maelstrom; and I fear that the impact it might have on campus in the coming weeks. The complaints in this case are nothing new; students have threatened to bring this suit for years. Perhaps the RMS positions are prohibited by the civil rights act of 1964, perhaps not, what’s clear is that there’s no reason to bring this suit in a student court.
I believe that the Union and the University should do everything that they can to maintain compliance with the law, but this suit is not an effective means of doing so. History has shown that the supremacy clause of the union constitution is not judicially enforceable; it is simply a disclaimer. The language in Art. I §3 gives the Union and the University a way to make clear that any unlawful provision of the constitution is unenforceable and can be severed without any injury to the remainder of the document.
In bringing this lawsuit the litigants are asking members of the UJ to interpret federal statutory and case law, a task that student government was never intended to carry out. I believe that many of the members of the UJ are highly capable people, but they are not federal judges, and they don’t have the training or resources to handle this case.
In terms of constitutionality, there are a couple of interesting issues in this case. The Constitution establishes the Racial Minority position, so therefore it could be said it is constitutional. However, Article I, Section 3 states that the “Constitution shall be enacted in accordance with all federal, state, and local laws, and University policies.” If the RMS position violates one of those policies it could technically be viewed as unconstitutional, but Article I, Section 3 also states that the “Union Government shall not be responsible for the enforcement of such laws and policies.” In that case, it would not be the UJ’s responsibility to strike down a portion of the Constitution. If it really does violate certain policies, then the University should inform the Union and the position should be eliminated through the Constitutional amendment process, not through a UJ decision.
what a bunch of troublemakers. This position definitely needs to be looked at, but not in the context of a UJ case, which are always ridiculous. Just make sure it’s included in the constitutional review process that’s constitutionally scheduled every four years (next year), and stop this stupid lawsuit.
On the merits of the case, I would like to mention that the petitioner’s argument is, to use the legal term, a bit screwy. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act does not apply unless the Student Union is receiving federal aid. The Preamble argument is based on reading the term “principle of democratic representation” to have one very specific meaning. The Rights and Responsibilities argument might have something to it, but of course there are as many who would say that the Racial Minority Senator/F-Board positions fight discrimination as those who say they are discrimination.
Ultimately, I think Lev is right that this case is completely bereft of anyone who is invested in the continuation of the Racial Minority Senate position. This isn’t the way trials are supposed to work under the adversarial system.
To be fair to the UJ, they only get so many petitions in a year, if they start denying them the old gavel arm gets rusty.