The court sided with a College Democrats representative who claimed Sen. Rebecca Hampton denied the student organization funds because of personal bias.
The court found Hampton guilty of malfeasance by a 3-2 vote. Hampton has been suspended from office for three weeks.
According to Torin Hovander, president of the College Democrats, Hampton proposed that ASUNM reduce their appropriation funds from $300 to nothing because of Hampton’s bias against the Democratic Party.
“I believe this is a fundamental question of fairness,” said Hovander during the hearing. “Are all student organizations being treated by the same standard? Are the criticisms given in the ASUNM Senate meetings legitimate? When senators become senators they have certain beliefs, but whatever bias they have should be left at the door.”
Hampton did not make the motion to lower the organization’s funds, but only voted to do so and was simply acting in the best interest of student fees and the students themselves, Hampton said.
“I believe it’s an irresponsible use of student fees to make events that are only accessible or engaging to 1,000 students or a few thousand students when there are over 25,000 on campus,” Hampton said during the hearing. “It has nothing to do with me hating those who support Democrats, but I don’t support the Democratic Party because of its policies. I don’t think that those kinds of oppressive ideas should be perpetuated, propagated or promoted on campus.”
Justice Seth Barany, writing for the majority, said that Hampton violated Article II Section 7 of the Finance Code which states that ASUNM will make financial appropriations without basing their decisions on the viewpoints of the group requesting funding.
The argument was raised during the hearing that this statute violates Hampton’s freedom of speech. However, the court recognized “that the freedom to act, unlike the freedom to believe, cannot be absolute,” a precedent set by the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith.
Ultimately the court’s opinion states that Hampton has the right to speak out against what Hampton does not believe as a student and a senator, but as a senator making financial decisions Hampton must remain neutral.
“What is the point of allowing me to speak out against oppression but not act upon my beliefs of what is best for the student body?” Hampton said. “I was elected based on my transparent political positions, and to prevent me from voting according to my political positions is a problem to say the least... I have taken a principled decision in line with my political decision and I am being penalized for it.”
The case is now under the appeals process and has been directed to the Student Conduct Committee, said Chief Justice Nic Cordova.
The Judicial Branch of ASUNM is known as the Student Court and is made up of five justices. The court is led by the chief justice who is appointed by the President. The other four justices are appointed by the chief justice.
Marielle Dent is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Marielle_Dent.