MSA Operations looks into removal of chief justice
Proposed legislation clarifies the removal procedure, but Senate cannot impeach Chief Justice Whitney Barr while she is out of state.
Apr. 14, 2016
Amid frustration over MSA Student Court Chief Justice Whitney Barr’s absence, the Operations Committee passed legislation adding a section in their bylaws outlining the removal of chief justices.
The legislation, Act 55-45, passed through the committee April 13 and will be voted on during the April 27 full Senate.
The authors of the legislation, Sen. Levi Doyle-Barker and Operations Chairman Josh Tennison, said the legislation came in response to Barr’s unavailability throughout the semester. During the resignation of former President-elect Haden Gomez and running mate Chris Hanner, as well as the resulting special election, Tennison and Doyle-Barker said Barr was out of the state and slow in responding to issues.
Barr is interning in Washington, D.C., through the Mizzou Congressional Leadership program. She is currently enrolled at MU as a full-time student.
After screenshots surfaced of Gomez and Hanner’s campaign GroupMe, the committee drafted legislation for their removal based on the knowledge that the court would not be able to meet for three days. The committee received the screenshots the night before Gomez and Hanner’s scheduled inauguration.
Tennison said her absence made it difficult to move forward with the special election.
“The appointment of the (Board of Elections Commissioners) chair is one instance that (we ran into trouble),” he said. “That appointment has to be made unanimously amongst the speaker, the president and the chief justice, and we found difficulty in contacting Whitney to discuss the appointment.”
Barr said in an email that she had been fully able to complete her job despite her physical absence. She said she had phoned in to every meeting and case, voted on every case, participated in weekly phone conferences, and facilitated the court’s semesterly handbook review.
She also said, with regard to the special election and appointment of the BEC chairwoman, that she had not received any emails from the Operations chairman.
“To be very clear, I do agree that there needs to be a procedure for the removal of a justice,” she said. “I believe the legislation written now has been crafted thoughtfully and will allow for a clear process to remove a justice in the event that is necessary and I commend the senators for their diligence in writing that legislation.”
Previously, there was no procedure in the bylaws for the removal of justices. In the constitution, the process is housed under the Inferior Officer clause, which makes no distinction between chief justices and other justices.
“We do have a procedure in place (in the constitution),” Doyle-Barker said. “It’s just not clear that’s what it’s for and it’s in an awkward place. It’s not even under the judicial section of the bylaws.”
The bylaw revision would make the impeachment process the same for chief justices and the other branch heads, the president and the Senate speaker, with one difference. While these positions are impeached by a petition of 20 percent of all Senate and removed by a vote of two-thirds of present senators at a full Senate meeting, the chief justice would go through a different appeal process because the Student Court presides over all appeals.
If a chief justice were to appeal his or her removal, remaining justices would have to vote on the appeal. The addition to the bylaws would require a unanimous vote of all present justices to overturn the chief’s removal, to compensate for any sort of bias the justices may have toward their own leader.
This is not the first bylaw revision passed concerning the court this semester. Act 55-21 passed Feb. 10 and also included several reforms to the judicial branch.
The act created new requirements that the court meet at least once a month, two judges must be present at each full Senate meeting, and justices have to respond within certain timeframes during elections. The court has two hours to respond to requests from the BEC or slates and must be available to begin judicial proceedings by 5 p.m. on the same day as complaints during polling days.
Tennison said he expected impeachment proceedings to be brought against Barr, but not immediately after the legislation passed. The constitution requires impeached officers to be “allowed to make a defense before the Senate and before any committee considering the issue.”
Tennison said he does not believe this could be done while Barr is out of the state.
“You can’t hold an impeachment trial for somebody who’s not here,” he said. “But that would be the only thing stopping us from seeing an impeachment trial. If there were a way for her to be here to be impeached, I definitely would expect that (to happen).”
Barr said she looked forward to applying the skills she learned at her internship to her position as chief justice.
“The associate chief justice has presided in my place when the chief justice was required this semester,” she said. “It sets a dangerous precedent to punish those for physical absence if they are still fulfilling their judicial duties of voting.”
Edited by Waverly Colville | firstname.lastname@example.org