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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


USG judiciary unanimously votes to remove chief justice

Acting Chief Justice Isaiah Momplaisir and Associate Justice Eric Wagner talking at the USG Senate meeting on Thursday, April 25. They announced their decision to remove Chief Justice Aravinth Pushparaj from his position. SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) judiciary announced its decision to remove Chief Justice Aravinth Pushparaj from his position on Thursday, April 25.

The ruling came in response to a case filed against Pushparaj and two members of the USG Executive Council by USG Sen. Andrew Machkasov. Machkasov wanted to overturn the USG Senate’s Feb. 14 confirmation of the chief justice because it was held over a year after his initial appointment, which is in violation of the USG Constitution. The court found that his nomination and confirmation were invalid.

“We found five to zero that Aravinth, they did not follow the proper procedure for Aravinth’s nomination and confirmation as chief justice,” Associate Justice Eric Wagner, a sophomore economics and political science double major, said. ”So the Supreme Court of the USG currently does not have a chief justice.”

Associate Justice Isaiah Momplaisir was elected vice chair when the judiciary took on the case. He’s expected to act as chief justice for the rest of the semester.

The judiciary unanimously decided that, as dictated in the USG Constitution, a Senate confirmation within the academic year the chief justice was appointed is a prerequisite to continue in the position. Pushparaj was nominated by former President Ayyan Zubair in the 2017-18 academic year without Senate confirmation. He did receive the required two-thirds Senate approval during his Feb. 14 confirmation in the Spring 2019 semester, but the judiciary wrote that they were unsure whether current President Justas Klimavicius’s email asking the Senate to vote on his confirmation counted as a nomination within the current academic year.

“Nowhere in this email does it express, either explicitly or implicitly, that President Klimavicius is himself nominating Mr. Pushparaj to be Chief Justice,” Wagner wrote in the final decision.

Klimavicius— one of the executive council members named in the case filing — argued later that he would have nominated Pushparaj had he known it would be an issue, according to the final decision. Because he did not claim the email itself was a nomination, the justices decided in the majority opinion that his email did not implicitly nominate the chief justice.

The concurring opinion, written by Momplaisir, argued otherwise.

“Since the constitution states … the President shall appoint a person to fill said vacated position,’ the method in which the President appoints a Justice is clearly ambiguous,” Momplaisir wrote in the concurring opinion. “For that reason, the email that President Klimavicius sent to the Senators stating, ‘… I am asking the Senate to rectify this issue by officially confirming Aravinth Pushparaj as the Chief Justice at tomorrow’s Senate meeting’ suffices the requirement of presidential appointment.”

In his case filing, Machkasov asked whether or not voting to confirm a chief justice candidate without a hearing from a Senate committee first is a violation of USG code. The judiciary found that, according to the USG Code, the Vetting and Legislative Review Committee must review anyone appointed to a paid USG position. The chief justice receives a stipend, so anyone appointed to the position would need to go through the vetting committee. Pushparaj did not.

The judiciary also found that, according to the USG Code, any member appointed to the judiciary or executive branches must be vetted by an ad-hoc committee outside of the Vetting and Legislative Review Committee. The judiciary said they believe that USG hasn’t been observing this provision when confirming any position.

In order to avoid delegitimizing a large number of executive and judicial members, the judiciary decided to observe past procedure and set it aside for this case. The final court decision, however, requires USG to follow the provision when making future appointments.

“This is a very important case for appointments and the proper procedure,” Associate Justice and senior political science major Thor Hawrey said. “You guys of course can revise the code, revise the constitution to change the procedure, outline a new procedure, but until that happens this is the proper route.”

One other issue discussed in the case was the short notice given to the USG Senate about Pushparaj’s confirmation vote. The USG code dictates that any business requiring quorum, or a vote, needs to be added to the meeting’s agenda at least 48 hours in advance. The vote was added exactly 22 hours and 54 minutes ahead of the meeting, according to Machkasov’s case filing.

Executive Vice President (EVP) Abdelrahman Salama, the other executive council member named in the case, argued that the EVP has final say over procedures. The judiciary disagreed, writing that this power doesn’t extend to judicial appointments.

“Article V, Section 4, Clause 1, Subclause b states ‘Said appointment [to the Judiciary] shall be in compliance with Article V, Section 3 of the Constitution, and any and all legally binding documents of the USG,’” Wagner wrote in the final decision. “This provision specifically grants the USG the authority to craft regulations for the appointment of members of the Judiciary.”

During the case, Pushparaj argued that some justices could not sit on the case because they faced a conflict of interest. Associate justices, however, said that they weren’t aware of the judicial bylaws that discuss conflicts of interest before Pushparaj brought them up during the case. These judicial bylaws are not posted online.

Associate justices Hawrey, Wagner and Imad Chaudhry sent Pushparaj an email in January arguing that he wasn’t fit to lead the judiciary branch. Among other things, the email claimed that Pushparaj let other USG members meddle in a case regarding the impeachment of two E-board members in the Muslim Students Association. It also claimed that he violated the Constitution by acting on his own without following decisions made by the whole court. It concluded that Pushparaj did not show that he understood the USG Constitution or supporting documents and asked him to leave the court. They found that he had not been officially confirmed and pointed out that he didn’t legally hold the chief justice position.

“If you read the minutes when they are hopefully sent out, that we deliberated this for literally hours on end, I think upwards of five hours, and we went over the specific code,” Wagner said. “We had one meeting after the hearing. We went back, looked over the laws, the code, the constitution. We came back. We deliberated more. And then we wrote the opinions afterwards. So it wasn’t something that was decided right after and I think that goes to show that we were able to look at this with an open mind.”

Momplaisir added that none of the justices’ issues with Pushparaj’s leadership were factors in the case. Associate justices said that the case results and their meetings’ minutes discussing the case were sent to the USG Vice President of Communications, Ian Ouyoung, to be posted online.

Correction, 4/28/19: The article originally attributed the committee review requirements for new appointments to the USG Constitution. The requirements are actually written in the USG Code. The concurring opinion was also not originally distinguished from the majority opinion.

5/16/19: The sentence “The court found that his nomination and confirmation were invalid,” was added to clarify that the use of the term “removed” does not indicate nor imply impeachment.

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