Loomba tramples on the constitution

The Devil's Advocate

ASUC Senators and executives — especially President Vishalli Loomba — should devote at least one of the remaining Senate meetings to familiarizing themselves with the ASUC constitution. At Wednesday night’s meeting on Loomba’s executive order invalidating the V.O.I.C.E initiative, it became abundantly clear that one of the following is true: (1) our student representatives choose to ignore the constitution entirely, or (2) they have never read it before.

A quick summary is in order. Over the course of the year, the ASUC Senate and Loomba both approved the placement of the V.O.I.C.E initiative — a fee referendum to support The Daily Californian — on the ballot for students to vote on this week. But on Wednesday morning, in the middle of the election, Loomba unexpectedly issued an executive order invalidating the initiative. She cited objections about The Daily Californian’s independence and the handling of the fee which had apparently not occurred to her until the day after voting began. At Wednesday night’s Senate meeting, the Senate voted to keep her order in place.

No matter your position on the V.O.I.C.E initiative, you should be ashamed of your student government. Loomba’s order was patently unconstitutional — an unprecedented overreach of executive authority. (Imagine Governor Jerry Brown invalidating a ballot proposition by executive order as voting was taking place). The Senate’s willingness to defy the constitution and bow to Loomba is equally appalling.

Consider the language of the constitution. It clearly defines the scope of the President’s executive order authority and makes clear that it is reserved for emergency situations. According to Section II, the President may “direct by Executive Order the taking of actions which are urgent and necessary to maintain the functioning of the A.S.U.C. until the Senate can again meet.”

Loomba issued the executive order early Wednesday morning, just after midnight. The Senate met on Wednesday night, starting at 6 p.m. Do Loomba or any of the Senators who voted to uphold her executive order really believe that the ASUC would have been unable to function in those 18 hours had Loomba not invalidated the referendum? Would Eshleman Hall and the student store have collapsed? Would the ASUC have somehow been rendered incapable of supporting student groups? I don’t think so.

The President’s power to issue executive orders can only be exercised to keep the ASUC functioning in real emergencies. It clearly does not extend to the invalidation of ordinary elections. The only explanation for the ASUC’s actions on Wednesday night is that Loomba and the Senators who voted to uphold her executive order are either unfamiliar with Section II of the constitution or can’t be bothered to abide by it.

ASUC officials offered a few pathetically weak explanations as to how, under her authority to “maintain the functioning of the ASUC until the Senate can again meet,” Loomba is authorized to invalidate elections on a whim as they are taking place. One came from Attorney General Deepti Rajendran, who said that simply because Loomba believed her executive order was “urgent,” it is constitutional. This makes one worry about which elections Loomba feels she must urgently interfere with tomorrow.

Another came from Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab, who said that because the ASUC could get sued if the V.O.I.C.E initiative was not invalidated, it was important that Loomba act swiftly. It seems unlikely that the ASUC was going to be sued, tried, and cease functioning in the 18 hour interim between Loomba’s order and the Senate’s next meeting. In fact, it would be impossible for a student to sue over the V.O.I.C.E initiative until it passed. You can’t sue over a nonexistent fee.

Unbelievably, most Senators seemed totally unconcerned with the scope of the President’s executive order authority. Instead, they spent the meeting arguing over whether the V.O.I.C.E initiative broke any ASUC bylaws regarding student fee referenda. But the legality of the V.O.I.C.E initiative had nothing to with the Senate’s task Wednesday night — the ASUC constitution makes clear that only the Judicial Council has the authority to “review charges of violation … of the By-Laws.” Senator Noah Ickowitz — who led the argument against Loomba’s executive overreach — made a heroic effort to try to try to bring this simple fact to his fellow Senators’ attention, but most of his colleagues refused to listen.

As if to underscore the utter constitutional illiteracy of the student government, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman said that Loomba’s executive order was “the only thing she could do to make sure checks and balances are still happening.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Loomba’s executive order, which unilaterally nullified a democratic election and effectively seized for the President the powers of the Judicial Council, is about the greatest affront to the system of checks and balances I can imagine.