The recently formed Student Supreme Court is set to preside over significant changes to the Student Senate. Students and senators are questioning the new constitution.In the spring of 2022, Wabash students voted to approve a new constitution for the student body. In this proposal, the Constitution, Bylaws, and Policy Review Committee transitioned into a third segment of the government and became the judicial branch. While portrayed by proponents as a relatively straightforward, innocuous change, those against the proposal argued that the new Court would weaken the separation of powers within the government, is 80 percent appointed by the Student Body President and Chairman and may make decisions that the legislative branch should be entitled to make.
This semester, the Student Senate has run into issues that the judicial branch will be tasked with solving. Recent discussions surrounding the ability for the Senate to fund alcohol purchases for clubs as well as funding for clubs to paint the bench have created a gray area that senators look to the judicial branch to clarify.“A lot of what we say and recommend is still going to be up to the discretion of the Senate, unless they are completely breaking the Constitution or any bylaws that we deem,” said Chief Justice Thomas Joven ’24. “Some of my goals as a court will be to read over all the documents that do govern the Wabash student body and revamp the Audit and Finance Committee bylaws in addition to the Wabash business office policy for P-cards.”
Chairman of the Student Senate, Will Trapp ’24, wrote a large portion of the new constitution and guided the Senate in discussions over what these changes would entail. “I hoped to establish an entity detached from the Senate and Executive branch to provide oversight and keep our student government accountable,” said Trapp. “That being said, I cannot take credit for the idea. From what I gathered, the initiative dates back to Summer 2020 and former president Chuck Esterline. He and his team saw that other student governments have a judicial body and believed it would be best for Wabash to have one too.”
Concerns have mostly echoed the sentiment asking for clarity on what the judicial branch will be doing. “The judicial branch has 3 main functions, following the Constitution,” said Trapp. “They may pass injunctions to halt an action/decision that goes against the Constitution, review questions about what is permissible and draft legislation in appropriate language at the request of the Senate or executive branch. For example, they will be assisting the Audit and Finance Committee in updating our financial policy.”
The recent election for Chief Justice saw two competing ideologies come into play as Joven and William Grennon ’24 entered the ballot. Grennon believes that the Court could become an entity with more power then students originally anticipated. “I think the court should tread carefully when dealing with issues not explicitly outlined in the Constitution,” said Grennon. “Their actions will set a precedent that courts will look to in the future and surely shape the role of the Judiciary branch for years to come. I think so long as they are cautious with how their decisions might be interpreted moving forward, it’s an opportunity to solidify the court’s place in Wabash’s future.
“The Court will be a good resource for the Senate and executive branch to ensure we are abiding by the Student Body Constitution and Senate Bylaws,” said Student Body President Bryce McCullough ’23 in response to these fears. “I expect them to be impartial and make recommendations based on the legality of Senate actions, rather than political or policy directives, which will remain the Senate’s responsibility.”
The decisions that the court makes this year will have important ramifications for clubs and other student body organizations, but also establish precedent that will guide the Senate for decades to come. Because of the weight of being an inaugural governing body, the court will need to be thoughtful and meticulous in their reasoning. “Another thing that we want to do is compile a list of any major things the Senate has done in the past few years with the activity fees and any major funding spent on unique things that may set some sort of precedent to lean on,” said Joven. “I think a big one that got brought up last year was funding different clubs who are going on trips. I think there should be more regulation for that.” Joven also believes that the judicial branch needs to be a part of the disciplinary hearings the college has to deal with student issues. “I do think, especially here where we’re a student-led campus, that students being able to – not have a final say – but have some involvement in the disciplinary actions of peers, could be valuable,” said Joven.
The judicial branch is going to play an important role in the character of Wabash College, more than most students anticipated when they cast their vote last year, but the Senate is confident that they have put the right people on the court. “The members of the Court are stand-up guys,” said McCullough. Thomas, Seth [Kirkpatrck ‘24], Jackson [Grabill ‘24], Garson [Matney ‘24], and Drew [Hollingsworth ‘23] all have experience drafting briefs and opinions in Constitutional Law and have legal internship experience. I am very impressed with our first slate of justices. I am confident that they will serve the student body well.