Three justices of the Undergraduate Student Government Judicial Panel resigned at a General Assembly meeting on Wednesday.
Justices Andrew Braun, Morgan Johnson and Aaron Vaughn resigned after facing impeachment at the meeting. Chief Justice Brandon Cruz resigned last week, members of the Judicial Panel said. The new chief justice is Taylor Marsilio, a former justice. He took office after Cruz’s resignation.
Additionally, there will be no special election on the divestment issue, or “Issue 1,” said USG President Celia Wright, a fourth-year in public health.
Issue 1 was brought forth by a petition from the organization OSU Divest, and asked whether student voters thought OSU should divest — or cut financial ties — from companies “complicit in Israeli human rights violations and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories,” according to the OSU Divest website.
Initially, the Judicial Panel decided to deny Issue 1 a spot on the ballot because the petition failed to meet certain submission criteria outlined in the USG election bylaws. The panel later issued a press release that acknowledged “the presence of procedural error in the handling of this case,” and said the issue could show up on a special ballot at the end of March, pending General Assembly approval.
The USG Judicial Panel announced the vote March 11. This announcement was part of the accusations leading to the impeachment, according to a resolution that brought forth the suggestion of impeaching some justices, titled “articles of impeachment.” The justices were accused of overstepping their constitutional boundaries by declaring a special election, which is not mentioned in the USG bylaws.
The three justices faced impeachment but resigned before the General Assembly could vote on the impeachment articles.
Former Chief Justice Cruz — who had previously resigned — said in his resignation letter the USG administration “consistently excommunicated anyone who has gone against them and their opinion, which is why I cannot continue to follow what the current USG administration has done and continues to do, not only to myself, but to the entire USG as a whole.”
According to the articles of impeachment provided by both the justices and USG, the three justices were accused of “failure to perform constitutionally prescribed duty and abuse of power and position.”
They were also accused of “ignoring the rules laid out in the Elections Bylaws” and “subverting the legislative branch of the Undergraduate Student Government” and also having taken part in a secret meeting with “OSU Divest, the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a previous USG Vice President (and) a USG Senator,” the articles said. OSU Divest had sponsored the Issue 1 referendum.
In her resignation letter, Johnson, a second-year in public affairs and one of the justices who resigned today, addressed the accusations and wrote, “In any matter, I and all of my fellow justices have done our job with the upmost (sic) integrity.”
“No one wanted to be responsible for taking OSU Divest’s initiative off of the ballot,” she wrote in a letter she told The Lantern after the meeting that she had read to the USG General Assembly. “Many people, including those that have accused my actions of simply having a meeting to compromise a solution to a problem and suggesting action as unconstitutional, wanted to see the issue off of the ballot.”
The discussions on the justices’ impeachment were closed to the public and the media. USG declared the session a “closed session.” The General Assembly remained closed after the three justices, who had handed in their letters of resignation, left the Senate Chamber in the Ohio Union.
According to USG’s “Standing Rules of the Senate,” the Senate moves into executive session after the consideration of the resolution containing the articles of impeachment or censure is announced. During that session, people involved are permitted to present evidence and speak, and questioning takes place. The Senate then votes “by method of Secret Ballot,” and reopens the meeting afterward.
After being reopened to the public after about two hours, the General Assembly had moved to announcements and adjourned within a few minutes. Wright declined to comment on what had been discussed in the closed session.
Earlier this month, Wright and vice president Leah Lacure, a fourth-year in public affairs, published a statement addressing Issue 1, among other issues, and ultimately announced the decision to file for the impeachment of the chief justice of the Judicial Panel.
“Throughout this process, we have been alarmed and disturbed by the lack of efficiency and attentiveness in the Judicial Panel’s handling of the issue since its inception,” Wright and Lacure said in the statement, released March 9.
The impeachment articles’ sponsors included Wright and Lacure.
The articles “were withdrawn from the floor following the resignation of the justices,” Lacure said in a follow-up email on Wednesday.
In Braun’s resignation letter, which he later said he also read to the General Assembly, Braun, a fourth-year in microbiology and international studies, said he was resigning because of the “complete breakdown of election propriety and respectability that has followed the mishandling of the OSU Divest ballot petition.”
The members who resigned will form a review panel, Johnson said.
People within the organization are “scared to take action because they are afraid of the retaliation,” she said. “Any student that wants to get involved and help a lot of students are under the impression that they can’t participate unless they join the organization, but this is not true.”
Johnson said the review panel will work to make the actions of USG more transparent for students.
“I want to help make students aware of their rights within student government,” she said. “What we’ll do is attend General Assembly meetings to make sure they are following bylaws, review executive actions to make sure they respect bylaws, make sure the (Judicial) Panel is adhering to the bylaws. (We) want to serve as a body that is free of political pressure.”