I have always been of the firm belief that the moment an activist movement or presence begins to be taken seriously is the moment at which it begins to be attacked. Therefore, the entire Innermost Parts community owes a big thank you to Andrew Brooks for validating our site and its mission.
Seriously, one would think that after failing to break 40% of the vote as an incumbent in a two-seat primary election in which you are one of two candidates, having your complaints about libel dismissed without punishment by a duly elected third-party elections commissioner, and going on to lose by 80 votes on the final ballot would be enough to convince you that your constituents have decided in a fair election that they want someone else doing your job. However, that would only be the case if you have any respect for the democratic process.
Unfortunately, former Senator Brooks seems to lack that respect, so before Noam Shuster can take her rightful place on the Brandeis Student Union, we will have to deal with the injunction Brooks filed with the Union Judiciary to have this election invalidated. It is my firm belief that this case has absolutely no merit and that Union Judicial precedent shows that there is no reason why this injunction should not have been dismissed immediately.
I would like to begin by trying to cite the actual text of the injunction or the Chief Justice’s response to it, but the Student Union website appears to have crashed. Unfortunately, this will also prevent me from referencing the Union Constitution, by-laws, or election rules, or the prior Judiciary cases on similar matters. Therefore, this post will only deal with what happened during the primary election; however, I will explore these other issues in more depth later today.
First, we need to get an accurate definition of ‘libel’. Unfortunately, I do not think the Union defines it for us, so I had to find an outside source that will do so. For this post, I will use the page on defamation, libel, and slander law from ExpertLaw.com, a leading online legal resource center. While I admit that the Union Judiciary is in no way governed by anything ExpertLaw says, I still think provides as objective a definition as anyone will be able to get for this case.
So what specifically makes a statement “libelous” or “slanderous” (the actual words used in the elections rules, according to this Google cached page accurate as of April 7th)?
Generally speaking, defamation is the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm. Slander involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation. Libel involves the making of defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper.
Is a blog considered transitory or fixed? I have no idea. However, the point is they both refer to the same thing, defamation, and only differ in the way in which the defamatory comment is spread. Therefore, because the rules warn against both libel and slander, the question becomes ‘What constitutes defamation?’. While we already have a definition for it, we need to find out what exactly is necessary for a conviction.
Typically, the elements of a cause of action for defamation include:
- A false and defamatory statement concerning another;
- The unprivileged publication of the statement to a third party (that is, somebody other than the person defamed by the statement);
- If the defamatory matter is of public concern, fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and
- Damage to the plaintiff.
We can see that a libelous or slanderous statement is not merely one which Andrew Brooks claims is untrue. Rather, it is one that actively and through the negligence of the author defames him and is spread to an extent which causes him personal damage. Bearing this in mind, I will now examine the full text of the official complaint that Noam, Kaamila, Sahar, and I received from Nelson Rutrick, the outgoing Student Union Secretary and Chief of Elections, on April 15th, the day of the primary election:
Hey Noam, Kaamila, Sahar, and Adam,
I am writing to you on behalf of the elections commission in regards to elections violations which have occurred on the website ‘innermostparts.org.’
On this website there is a post by Sahar Massachi and another Adam Hughes which encourage voters to support Noam and Kaamila in the race for Senator-at-Large. There have been a large number of requests for these two write-in candidates to be disqualified for these two posts. As Chief of Elections, I have decided that the commission will neither mark Noam and Kaamila as ‘violators of a rule’ nor will I disqualify them from the race. Instead, I will give a warning to both candidates and their supporters that the elections commission is looking extremely closely at this election and will not hold back from disqualify or marking a candidate who does not abide by elections rules.
If you wish to continue using this website to comment on the election, make sure that you _double check the veracity of your claims_. Further false claims, considered ‘libelous’ by the elections commission, will be punished.
For example: The website claims that Justin Sulsky and Andrew Brooks are responsible for “Authoring and being the only two senators to vote for the ridiculously partisan American flag resolution.” – In reality, the resolution was not authored by Andrew Brooks.
Thank you, and please recognize that this is not an election governed by the rules of the United States, but rather it is one governed by the rules of the Student Union Elections Commission, and libelous statements will result in punishment.
Chief of Elections
This, then, is the official ruling of the elections commissioner, and it seems rather cut-and-dried to me. While I may contest the validity of some of what Mr. Rutrick says, I would not contest his authority to make a final, binding ruling on the matter and to determine what does or does not constitute ‘libelous’ or ‘slanderous’ and to hand out appropriate punishment. And, indeed, the Elections Rules would agree with me:
- The Chief of Elections reserves the right to treat all violations reported to firstname.lastname@example.org as official complaints.
- Should the Chief of Elections determine that a violation has occurred, he or she may impose any reasonable sanction(s) including but not limited to
- A warning to correct the violation.
- Loss of campaign privileges and materials.
- Negative notations on ballots.
Again, this seems very clear. Unless I’m missing something, the process went:
- Official complaints were made.
- The Chief of Elections received and considered them.
- He gave an official warning that the commission is examining the election closely and will not hesitate to take further action in the event of future non-compliance with the rules.
This is the exact process laid out in the rules. What, then is the problem? Notice that the only times that the word ‘libelous’ comes up in Mr. Rutrick’s e-mail are in reference to hypothetical future statements from the campaign. If we were definitively judged to have committed libel, we were never told about it, and even if such a judgment was passed, Mr. Rutrick dealt with it in the way he felt was appropriate. I don’t see where any injunction could be made.
As for the one statement that Nelson cited, I discuss it in this comment and explain why I think the misunderstanding was as a result of poor wording rather than any active untruth. However, even if you take the least forgiving interpretation of it, I still don’t see how it does any damage to Andrew Brooks’s reputation. This is a resolution that he voted and debated strongly for; does he really think that he lost the election because people mistakenly think he wrote it too? That is the only statement Rutrick told us he opposed; if there are any others, we never heard about them.
When the Student Union site is restored, I will address the Constitutional and Judicial aspects of this case and go into greater detail why this injunction has no leg to stand on. However, I think it should already be obvious that Andrew Brooks’s complaint is not about any injustice committed against him but is instead about using every resource possible to overturn the will of his constituents and hang onto as much power as he possibly can.