Monday, March 12, 2007

SUPREME COURT OF THE STUDENT BODY

Heard and Decided March 8, 2007

Opinion Published March 12, 2007

In re: J. Clayton Brett v. The Pants Party

COUNSEL: Rosemarie Clouston on behalf of Petitioner; Jesus Suarez on behalf of Respondent.

JUSTICE: GAVRICH, C.J., MAYLOR, J, KLEIN J., and VIALPANDO, J. concur. CAMPBELL, J. concurring in the judgment.


The Supreme Court of the Student Body [the “Court”] here reviews Petitioner’s appeal of the Election Commission’s decision in the case of John Clayton Brett v. The Pants Party, Case No. 2007-S-0007. We have jurisdiction. See § 729.0, Student Body Statutes. For the reasons explained below, we affirm.

1. Procedural History

On February 28, 2007, the Elections Commission [the “Commission”] heard arguments in the case of John Clayton Brett v. The Pants Party, Case No. 2007-S-0007. The Commission made three determinations is its decision issued March 1, 2007: (1) The Commission denied the Petitioner’s motion to defer the hearing. (2) The Commission held that the Chair of the Commission has the authority to issue a cease and desist order. (3) The Commission held that the Petitioner’s distribution of “I Voted” stickers violated § 761.21. On March 6, 2007, Petitioner filed a Request for Appeal with the Court, and the Court approved. Petitioner specifically appealed the Commission’s decision that the distribution of “I Voted” stickers violated § 761.21.

2. Analysis

§ 761.21 of the Student Body Statutes specifically provides that “No candidate shall give, offer, or promise to any student or student organization any benefit not authorized by student body law in order to influence the votes of that student or members of that organization.” According to § 744.1, a political party may be held liable for the actions of individuals if a complainant can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the political party solicited the individual to violate any provision of the Student Government Election Code. On this point, the Court believes the Elections Commission’s findings of fact were accurate. Therefore, the Court agrees that the Petitioner may be held liable under § 761.21 for the actions of the persons who distributed “I Voted” stickers of its behalf.

In interpreting § 761.21, the Court developed the following three prong test. In order to demonstrate a violation of § 761.21, a person must first show that a candidate conferred a benefit on a student or student organization. If this requirement is satisfied, a person must then demonstrate that such benefit was unauthorized by the Student Body Statutes or Student Body Constitution. Last, a person must show that the candidate conferred the benefit in order to influence the vote. The Court finds that these three requirements were satisfied.

The Court agrees that the distribution of “I Voted” stickers conferred a benefit on the students that received them. The right to display an “I Voted” sticker is a privilege conferred on the students by the polling representatives and the Supervisor of Elections. For some students, an “I Voted” sticker is a valuable benefit because it represents their participation in the electoral process. For others, the “I Voter” sticker has value because it demonstrates that the student has previously voted and it may deter a campaigner from approaching him or her. Accordingly, the Court holds that the Petitioner conferred a benefit on students by distributing the “I Voted” stickers.

The Court agrees that the “I Voted” stickers were unauthorized by the Student Body Statutes. To be authorized, campaign materials must bear the words “paid political advertisement.” See § 762.0.1 Therefore, in determining whether the stickers were unauthorized, the Court first considered whether the “I Voted” stickers constituted “campaign materials” as defined by § 700.4 (d). According to that provision, campaign materials include “any print or electronic material used for the purpose of supporting a candidate or political party for an elective Student Body office, an initiative, a referendum question, or proposed constitutional amendment.”

The distribution of “I Voted” stickers by polling representatives is a long standing practice in Student Government elections. When distributed by polling representatives, the “I Voted” stickers are polically neutral and do not constitute campaign materials. However, the Court believes the Petitioner distributed “I Voted” stickers to satirize the current practices of Student Government and to further their stated platform that “SG SUCKS.”2 Therefore, the Court agrees that the stickers constituted campaign material when distributed by the Petitioner. Accordingly, because the stickers constituted campaign materials and because they did not bear the words “paid political advertisement,” the stickers were unauthorized under the Student Body Statutes.

Thirdly, the majority agrees that distribution of “I Voted” stickers by the Petitioner influenced the vote. Because polling representatives only distribute “I Voted” stickers to voters after votes are cast, the Court believes that the act of distributing “I Voted” stickers to students before their votes were cast caused voter suppression and discourages voting. We further believe that the act of distributing “I Voted” stickers influenced the vote by disrupting the legitimate, long time practice of many student organizations of using “I Voted” stickers to track voter turnout. Because student organizations were unable to accurately use “I Voted” stickers to track voter turnout within their organizations, we believe that voter turnout was negatively influenced overall. Therefore, based on the above, the Court finds that the Respondent has demonstrated the three requirements inherent in § 761.21. Accordingly, the Court holds that the Petitioner has violated § 761.21.

Lastly, with respect to constitutional issues raised by the Petitioner, the Court holds that the Commission’s issuance of a cease and desist order prior to its ruling was not an unconstitutional restraint on free speech under Article I, § 4 of the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the Court holds that the subsequent ruling of the Commission did not constitute an unconstitutional limitation on free speech. While the right to free speech is undeniable, the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted a multitude of restrictions on speech. For example, in the case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court held that limits on campaign contributions "serve[d] the basic governmental interest in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process without directly impinging upon the rights of individual citizens and candidates to engage in political debate and discussion." Similarly, the Court believes that the Student Body Statutes regulating campaign material are constitutional and properly work to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. Accordingly, the Petitioner cannot be excused from following Student Body Law. For these reasons and the reasons stated above, the Court hereby affirms the decision of the Commission in the case of John Clayton Brett v. The Pants Party, Case No. 2007-S-0007.

Campbell, J. (concurring in judgment)

I concur in the judgment that the Pants Party violated at least one provision in Chapter 700 of the Student Government Election Code ("Code"). However, I do not agree that Pants violated the Code provision that the Student Government Elections Commission ("commission") charged them with violating, §761.21. Additionally, I believe the real issue and argument was never raised.

The Student Government Elections Commission anchored their charges against the Pants Party on Code §761.21. This provision states:

"761.21. No candidate shall give, offer, or promise to any student or student organization any benefit not authorized by student body law in order to influence the votes of that student or members of that organization."

This provision was written to prevent candidates from agreeing to provide unauthorized benefits in exchange for votes. It was written to prevent fraudulent "wheeling and dealing." As an example of what the drafters intended §761.21 to prevent, I give the following hypothetical proposal:

CANDIDATE: "If you will get everyone in your organization to vote for me, then after I'm elected I'll ensure that everyone in your organization receives free tickets to Gator football games compliments of the Student Government's budget.

The hypothetical above shows an express agreement. In reality, the agreement could be express or implied and need not be this extreme to be wrongful. What matters is that the candidate hopes to exchange unauthorized benefits for votes. This is the type of conduct the legislature intended to outlaw when it gave §761.21 the force of law.

In the present situation the Pants Party randomly and indiscriminately distributed "I Voted" stickers. The Pants asked nothing in return and the recipients, by accepting the stickers, expected nothing in return and had no further obligations. Once the stickers were gifted, the transaction was complete and the recipients were free to vote or not to vote at their discretion. The conduct proscribed by §761.21 does not apply to the present situation and the commission should not have anchored its claim upon a violation of §726.21.

The real issue, never raised, follows.


The Gator Party and those student organizations whose members tend to associate with the Gator Party are comparatively well organized and structured. Party and organization leadership encourage their members to vote. They use the "I Voted" stickers as a method of vote accounting. If, at the end of the day, an organizational member cannot present an "I Voted" sticker, leadership will influence the member to hit the polls. The stickers are proof that the members voted. As such, the stickers are a form of political "currency" with a unique value in this Student Government. I make no judgment whatsoever on the merits of this process.

The Pants Party is differently organized and structured. They do not have a similar sticker "vote accounting" process in place. The Pants Party does not like the way the Gator Party uses the stickers. They argue that the vote enforcement mechanism is anti-democratic. I make no judgment whatsoever on the merits of their argument. Regardless, it is advantageous to the Pants Party to flood the market with the stickers. Their logic is as follows: "Some members of Gator Party vote only because they are pressured into voting. These members must prove they voted with a sticker. If I give them a sticker, then they don't actually have to vote. They can put this sticker on the voter board and pretend they voted." Thus, their goal in distributing these stickers was to devalue the "currency" and disrupt the Gator Party's process.

Regardless of who distributed the stickers, for both Gator and Pants, the stickers were used to influence votes. Saying otherwise would deny reality. For the Gator Party the influence comes at the end of the day when an organizational member cannot present a sticker and is persuaded by leadership to go vote. For the Pants Party the influence comes in the middle of the day when they give a sticker to someone who then decides not to vote and later presents their leader with false proof. It is obvious that each party used the stickers to accomplish the same goal: to influence the vote.

One could argue that the key difference is that, on one side, the stickers were officially distributed by poll workers (and not Gator Party members) and, on the other, the Pants Party members were personally distributing the stickers. This argument values form over substance. It does not matter who distributes the stickers if they are ultimately used for the same purpose. Labeling something as "official" does not cure an inherent defect. Scanning any History textbook proves this point.

Apparently this "Stickergate" controversy has raised its ugly head before. Until this Court either declares that the stickers are, or are not, contraband, the controversy will continue its cycle of reincarnation. In the interests of justice and equity, I believe that this Court should make a decision that will apply to everyone equally. This would be the right thing to do.

However, the Pants Party is far from innocent. The Chair of the Elections Commission may grant a preliminary cease and desist order under authority pursuant to Code §723.4. In the present case, the Chair issued an order for the Pants to stop distributing the "I Voted" stickers. The order was summarily ignored. At this point, the merits of the order do not matter. What matters is that the Pants Party unilaterally decided that the order was invalid. That was a big mistake. The Pants Party should have made a good faith effort to follow the order and then use the judicial process for vindication. Instead, they took the law into their own hands.

Student Government will not work unless everyone plays by the rules. Unlike the real world, Student Government has few enforcement mechanisms for violation of an order. In voluntarily participating in Student Government, individuals and parties are also volunteering to play by the rules. The Pants Party willingly chose not to play by the rules. This cavalier attitude cannot be tolerated and is the only reason I concur in the judgment that the Pants Party violated the Code.

1 According to the record of the Commission, the stickers distributed by Petitioner did not bear these words.

2 The record states that the Petitioner printed and distributed t-shirts which stated the slogan “SG SUCKS.” The Court is of the opinion that the Petitioner organized around this central theme.

Supreme Court: "Go...."

45 comments:

Christian Duque said...

JCB is one hell of a stand-up guy. I attest to that. Bruce & Pants, great guys, but this really doesn't have to do with the parties or their members. This has to do with a rubberstamp court, a court that did John Boyles & the single-party legislature that confirmed them, very proud.

Even in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, justices rule & opine along largely known political lines. So too the UF Supreme Court rules in the interests of its masters.

We looked at wonderful arguments posed by Nelson & Baker, we read another great opinion by Fmr. FSU Student Body Attorney General James Argento (whom even offered to write a brief on the matter for TR). And what does the court rule, they rule contrary to logic and wholly for the System. Oh well.

ym said...

J. Campbell's analysis of the situation is much better than the majority decision who truly by into the stupid arguement about the I Voted Stickers.

Just curious, if next year, unnamed indivudals passed out I Voted stickers with truly no affiliation what would happen?

Anyway, Campbell's opinion does a much better job of saying why Pants was wrong, while also turning a light on some of the "wrong" practices that the Gator Party uses.

He still sides with the commission as was to be expected. Pants was wrong to continue to hand out the I Voted materials after the order.

I do believe that Campbell hits it write when he says that the I Voted Stickers are used by both sides. And thus the Supreme Court should make a decision. Perhaps banning them completely?

Anonymous said...

Pants = Pwnd

Anonymous said...

With this decision it looks like Bruce and David selfishly cost Alan Passman a Senate seat. If I was Alan I would be pissed.

Anonymous said...

This is independent of the disqualification recommendation. They still have to vote on that, I doubt they would disqualify a low level candidate who had absolutely nothing to do with the stickers.

That being said, I think the opinion was void of legal and logical reasoning. The dissenting opinion makes perfect sense, this is a case of politics pervading the judicial branch of SG.

Anonymous said...

You blast the Court for not showing logic or reasoning and then predict they won't disqualify? They will, just wait and see.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it they pretty much have to disqualify the "lowly candidate". If you set a precedent that party leaders can do whatever they want and it will have no effect on candidates... well party leaders will continue to do whatever they want.

Candidates become complicit when they interview with the leadership of parties and ultimately choose that party. You made a decision to put trust in those individuals when you ultimately decided to slate with them; if you don't trust them slate with another party or not at all.

They justices also demonstrate clear reasoning in that huge opinion. They point out every decision they had to make and how they came to those conclusions - its actually pretty easy to follow if you know... actually read it and don't have a knee-jerk reaction to the results not being in your direction.

Even the one "dissenting" opinion is still ultimately in favor of upholding the decision... so I don't see how anyone can have an argument here.

Anonymous said...

It was a concurring opinion not dissenting. Campbell felt compelled to point out the "elephant in the room" but specifically declined to opine on the merits of the Greeks/mulicultural orgs voter boards. What he did say was that Pants was inexcusably dissrespectful to the process and should be punished.

will said...

J Campbell deserves credit for a coherent opinon.

Gavin Baker said...

There are so many logical inconsistencies in the majority opinion. I will need to take some time to address them each, but on the whole, this opinion sucks.

I agree with much of the concurring opinion. Pants should have obeyed the C&D, regardless of what they thought of the merits. (And I think it was a pretty meritless order.) But otherwise, Pants never violated the law.

Christian Duque said...

The UF Supreme Court did not have the authority to issue that C&D, not to quote JA, but I am of the same opinion.

How I wish we had another Gil Sanchez or Charlie Grapski to file a real suit in court, that is, in a real court, not the mickey mouse one appointed by the SBP and confirmed by the UF Student Senate.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, Christian, further busy our strained courts with frivolous law suits from the likes of Grapski and co.

The whole lot of you need to be tasered. Maybe it'll shock some sense into you.

Anonymous said...

Well said 7:43!!

Francisco said...

Well I way I see it is disqualifying the single Pants Party member will be more of a slap in the face of the students then to Alan or Pants. He will be out of office in 2 months anyways and his replacement picked by Pants will be gone 3 months after that.

Disqualifying him will really just promote even more voter apathy by telling voters their vote truly made no difference at all. And look at it, once these results of validated what will the Senate look like? Gavin will be gone, the Action Party seat from the fall joined Swamp, Jordan is still registered as Swamp, and the indie that won Engineering will be switching to Gator, no doubt on that. So it will really be a one party system. Whether or not you support Gator/Swamp, I would think most people are not in favor of one-party systems (then again what do I know, right?). That that has been my big 'pain' since I started hear at UF.

Anonymous said...

The C&D order was invalid pursuant to SBS 102.1, but that argument was not included in the appeal. An inquiry to the general counsel for the Board of Governors (UF's general counsel ignored all requests for official and unofficial opinions) yielded support for the argument on those grounds.

Anonymous said...

The knee-jerk reaction by the system to the I Voted stickers "scandal" provides irrefutable evidence that Greek organizational leaders muscle their members to the polls. It makes their talk about the "integrity of the ballot" and "freedom from voter coercion" totally bogus and laughable. Plus the worst kept secret that the stickers are collected and accounted by house leaders, could have kept its urban myth status, but no more.

Thank you JCB for having made this patently clear, this "issue" should have been let slide and forgotten. The contribution to SG politics is that Pants not only found the underbelly of the dragon, but proved of its existence. I think future independent parties need to compartmentalize themselves and have an "I don't know what you're talking about" facade arm that simply gives out I Voted stickers even before the elections. If they can find out which stickers they are, and purchase them as a non-partisan party student organization, this issue will be coming up over and over again. It is paramount that the members of this remote limb of the party be somewhat cast to pariah status, that they never socialize with the Indie party members, to avoid making the connection; so that the system, who will know anyways what's going on, have no way to prove it, no evidence connecting the parties (at least until elections are validated by the Student Senate).

This new "controversy" has great potential and maybe it will be more fruitful in the future, if cleverly executed. This year, it was more of and an experiment than anything else, but the experiment worked.

Christian Duque said...

No, no, but you can't say that. Gator won b/c they're just better... I mean house leaders and FBK are not in cahoots, I mean that would mean...that would mean...SG is corrupt and we know that that's just not the case...b/c Pedro Morales, Ryan Day, & the other turncoats attest that Gator doesn't play dirty and is the more-qualified party...

Anonymous said...

Shut up Christian. Counting "I Voted" stickers has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Moseley trumps Bruce as far as qualifications go. That is just bald fact, I dont care how much that goes against your skewed version of things.

Anonymous said...

Argue it w/o telling people to shut up. Civility is important.

- Will

Anonymous said...

We could tell the fake stickers from real within one hour of their distribution.

Anonymous said...

10:24: Is it because you keep tabs of who voted or not?

will said...

10:24: That is a really cool trick considering they are the exact same stickers from the exact same vendor.

Anonymous said...

Ummm no they're not will. The vendor that sold them from to the school was actually different. You guys used another company that tried to copy them.

They are obviously different, the dimensions and stars were both different. But thanks for playing!

Anonymous said...

1:23: ES&S tried to copy their own stickers?

Anonymous said...

Why does Josh even care?

Christian Duque said...

They tried to use the arguement against the stickers we ran in '04. The Courts are meere agents of the ruling power. No offense to PANTS, but they are clearly no match for Gator in terms of muscle or popularity so the Courts fucked them up.

W/ Access they knew we were going to win, they knew that if they fucked us we'd fuck up right back ala CG, GS. So they backed off.

In '04 we littered them on the rows at 3,4am we didn't hand them out to just anyone. Innovate bagged the stickers, took them to the EC, called the cops, and NOTHING happened. We set precedent, even if not in a court of law, it was deemed "nothing" back then, but "nothing" from a party out the prowl and about to take it all.

Can anyone see my point? Can anyone see that the fact Pants is in contention for only one senate seat, whereas we were in contention for everything -- makes a huge difference in how the courts treat you?

If you can't see my point, I suspect you never will.

Anonymous said...

Do all you indies really think we'd lose if greeks didn't vote? Look at the numbers from Spring 06. The houses were quasi split and still we won. It's all about WHAM.

Anonymous said...

Once again Christian your revisionist history is mind boggling. Your I Voted sticker incident was much different than Pants. Firstly, your stickers were atrocious. They did not resemble authentic I voted stickers in any way. They were cheap copies on uneven paper (I saw them firsthand). No idiot would have gotten away with trying to use those. Second, you cowardly threw them on the rows at 3 am. They were all found and collected by 6:30. As such we had no proof who distributed them and could not have filed a complaint against you or Access (you would have just denied involvement). I promise you if we knew it was you you would have been busted. Remember the Board of Masters back then was headed by former SB prez Brent Gordon (AEPi) and was very political. They would have loved to have disqualified your whole party. If you had been as moronic and brazen as Pants you would have met the same fate.

Anonymous said...

Brent Gordon is a good guy, He is not the type to just disqualify someone, even if they won.

Anonymous said...

I was told the access sticker stunt was not really access, but was just some people from access, that the party didn't know about it.

Christian Duque said...

I know Brian Aungst and Joe Goldberg personally collected those stickers...but I also know that at least four of them wound up on the Fiji voter board in our mess hall. Yes the stickers sucked b/c we lacked an oval cutter and couldn't get the company that made them (this would have taken a PRR and were acting behind the scenes). The stickers would peel but req. work. Four stickers made it to the voter board at Fiji (names and photos of myself and Pete next to the board will be released in 2008).

That's right, we acted alone. Access wasn't that type of a group, the Party was clean of any foul-play. We were a spcecial unit (yes make your A*Team jokes, lmao) , but we were. There were four members and the group had a leader.

The stickers are only one of the many things we pulled off. Let's see who here "is in the know" and can't talk about what our unit did only four days before the first election?

;c) LOL

Anonymous said...

Hey law students, i need some help. I am confused by the opinion. Now what does buckley v. valeo have to do with anything? I thought Buckley upheld a federal spending limits, but it didn't limit the speech in the political contex. Isn't the government limited speech restricted to speech dealing with national security, etc.

Anonymous said...

Yes but that is just a nitpicking example of the majority opinion's incoherence.

Anonymous said...

What did you guys expect? The SOE warned you not to do it two weeks before the election. The Elections Commission asked you to stop. Then the Elections Commission recomended you get dq'ed. You ignored all of that and dared the Court to disqualify you. Bruce even said he hoped he got dq'ed for media attention! Meyrowitz said during the election that Bruce and he had talked and they didn't think they were going to win any seats so they decided to ignore the C&D order and the Elections Commission. Well I hope they are happy. They just cost Passman his senate seat.

Anonymous said...

Greek houses split in SP 06? Jesus you have no idea what you are talking about. No one was split in 06. Swamp had all but maybe 3 houses. A true "split" hasn't occurred since SWAMP v. IGNITE. Stop fucking talking when you have no idea what the fuck you are saying!!!

Anonymous said...

9:34 does not know what is going on.

The SOE did not warn Pants. They warned Foster.

As soon as the EC ruled for pants to stop distribution of stickers, pants halted distribution. The chairwoman's C&D exercised prior restraint. This sort of prior restraint on free speech is unAmerican. Interestingly, neither the court not the commission has anyone who even directly addressed the claims of prior restraint. The SC tried to allay our fears and with Buckley v. Valeo but that is a case far off point. This is a frightening precedent.

Anonymous said...

SOE warned Pants. EC issued the C&D to Pants. Pictures of Pants handing out stickers after C&D were taken. Try being more accurate and honest.

Also, why did Pants submit the stickers to SOE if they weren't campaign materials?

Anonymous said...

Pants didn't submit the stickers to SOE for review. Brian found out because a public records request was put in to find out about the stickers.

Anonymous said...

Brian found out because Will emailed him and asked him about the stickers. The bottem line is Pants purposely broke the rules and didn't listen to anyone who was trying to help them. Pants is going to get exactly what they asked for and Passman should be pissed.

will said...

Brian found out because Will emailed him and asked him about the stickers.

That is crap, Brian knew of my plans before my email and I have emails from him to prove it.

Pants is going to get exactly what they asked for and Passman should be pissed.

He isn't. Do you want to tell anyone else how they should feel?

-----

SOE warned Pants. EC issued the C&D to Pants. Pictures of Pants handing out stickers after C&D were taken.

The SOE warned me. I am not the Pants Party. Chairwoman Cohen -- not the EC -- issued a C&D to the Pants Party. That is an important distinction.

Anonymous said...

Read the statutes that's within her rights!

Francisco said...

I am not sure Will said it wasn't her rights (in fact he didn't) he just said there was a difference.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately there really wasn't as the EC ruled exactly the same way.

Anonymous said...

Why are comments blocked on the latest post?

Anonymous said...

Read the statutes that's within her rights!

Legal under the 700 codes, illegal under F.S. 286.011 and SBS 102.1. The appeals didn't touch on every angle, and some of the important points were flat out ignored or brushed off.