Judicial Board declares legislation mandating public Senate dockets unconstitutional

Kayla Solino | @kaylasolino, Assistant News Editor

The Judicial Board found Speaker of the Senate CJ Pearson and Executive Secretary Taryn Geiger not responsible for a docket mishap that occurred at the Aug. 25 Senate session and nullified an October 2021 act requiring the public posting of Senate dockets.  

“I stand by the decision reached by the members of the panel in their deliberation over the facts and evidence pertaining to the Appeal,” Chief Justice Caleb Thome said in a statement. “All parties involved have been notified of the corresponding decision and any resulting actions that they are expected to follow, per the panel’s decision. 

The initial appeal was filed on Aug. 25 by seniors Sarah Shield and Garrett Burnett after the SGA failed to post the correct meeting docket for that day’s Senate session.  

The appeal said that although a docket was posted to the SGA website for the Aug. 25 Senate session in compliance with the SGA Code of Laws, it was not reflective of the legislation discussed and voted on in the session. 

Shield and Burnett argued that Pearson, Geiger and the SGA were in violation of an act passed on Oct. 14, 2021, in which the SGA committed to posting Senate dockets to the SGA website. Pearson was the author of the act, which passed unanimously in the Senate.  

“The Student Government Association will post the Senate docket onto the Student Government Association Website and other platforms deemed appropriate by the SGA Communications Director and Webmaster, prior to all Senate meetings, providing reasonable notice,” the act read. 

Shield and Burnett said in the appeal that the full and correct Senate docket was never posted on the website. They called for the nullification of any actions taken by the SGA during the Aug. 25 Senate session.  

Thome and the Judicial Board formally responded to the appeal in an opinion of the court on Sept. 8.  

The Judicial Board first declared that the naming of Pearson and Geiger as defendants in the appeal was inconsistent.  

According to the governing documents of the Student Government Association, neither the duties of the Speaker of the Senate nor the Secretary of the Senate outline responsibility for ensuring that a docket is posted to the Student Government Association website,” Thome wrote in the court’s opinion.  

Thome said the defendants cannot be held accountable for responsibilities that are not explicitly stated under their role.  

The Judicial Board also struck down Shield and Burnett’s argument that Pearson and Geiger were in violation of the SGA act which requires the Senate docket to be posted publicly.  

“The Defendants cannot be held to the verbiage passed by the Senate in Act A-03-21 because the Act itself is categorically unconstitutional,” Thome wrote. Thome cited Article 3 Section 8, Subsection A of the Constitution of The University of Alabama’s Student Government Association, which defines Acts of Senate as “acts which authorize or mandate the Executive Branch to begin a new SGA program, project, or initiative that requires SGA budget allocations. All acts of Senate are subject to presidential veto. . .” 

Due to this clause, Thome said any act passed by the SGA should explicitly “pertain to matters requiring some sort of monetary allocation.” Thome also stated that not only is the act unconstitutional, but it was incorrectly passed as an act. 

“If the Student Government Association Senate desires to pass legislation regarding the posting of the docket prior to Senate meetings, that legislation, per the definition(s) in the Constitution, should not be an Act,” Thome wrote.  

Since the Judicial Board deemed the act which required the SGA to post Senate dockets to the website “inherently unconstitutional,” Thome wrote that “any attempt by [Shield and Burnett] to have the proceedings of the Senate meeting that occurred on August 25th, 2022, nullified based on that Act would also be unconstitutional.”  

Thome ordered that if the SGA wishes to pass legislation about the regular posting of a Senate docket prior to meetings, that they must do so with the proper legislation per the Constitution and in a way that clearly explains whose responsibility it is to fulfill its actions.  

Effective immediately, the SGA no longer has legislation that requires them to publicly post dockets on the SGA website ahead of Senate sessions.