Central Student Judiciary
Michigan Student Assembly

Case #: W-10-004

In re Petition for Rehearing of TALLEY v. YOUSUF

March 31, 2010

Opinion

Chief Justice HUSTON, writing for a majority of the full Central Student Judiciary.
Background

A five member appellate panel of CSJ rendered a decision in the February 25th, 2010 case of Yousuf v. Talley in favor of Appellant/Defendant Yousuf. Respondent/Plaintiff Talley timely and properly filed a petition for re-hearing. Mr. Talley argues that the constitutional question reached by CSJ, and which was dispositive of the case before the appellate panel, was heard for the first time by the five member panel. As a result, Mr. Talley claims that a re-hearing is appropriate so that a second panel may review of the judgment of the first. For the reasons stated below, Mr. Talley’s petition for rehearing is DENIED.

Relevant Provisions

The CSJ Manual provides in 51.123 that “CSJ has complete discretion as to which issues, if any, it wishes to consider in an appeal.” The Manual further states:
51.124 Filing an Appeal. A party wishing to appeal to CSJ must submit a written motion to CSJ within the applicable statute of limitations (see Section 51.122). The motion shall state briefly, in plain language, the following: the identities of the parties; a short statement of facts relevant to the appeal; the original judgment; and the basis for the appeal. The basis for the appeal must identify errors committed by the trial court which resulted in substantial injustice. CSJ shall grant an appeal hearing when at least four justices, upon considering the written motion, agree that an appeal hearing would be appropriate.
Discussion

Part I

CSJ maintains the ability to hear appeals when four justices, examining the submitted documents, determine a particular case worthy of an appellate hearing or of rehearing. After careful consideration of Mr. Talley’s petition for re-hearing by the full Court, the appeal did not receive the four votes necessary to grant a hearing. As a result, the request for re-hearing is denied.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once said of his court, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible [] because we are final.” Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953). Within student government at the University of Michigan, such is also true of CSJ. The decisions of a super-panel of CSJ, whether cases are heard in original jurisdiction or appellate, are final and will not be reconsidered absent a showing of overwhelming necessity. The Court retains absolute discretion on whether to re-hear its cases, and that discretion will not be exercised except in the most important of cases.

The right to an appeal is provided for in the MSA Constitution at XII.A.13, and that right is an important one. But the scope of that right does not entitle a litigant to automatically have his case heard twice. Instead, the right to appeal entails the right to bring one’s claims to the highest body capable of ruling on them, which is a super panel of CSJ. Mr. Talley was able to pursue his claims and litigate his position on the constitutional issue before the highest judicial body in student government. He has been afforded all the process he is due under the Constitution.

Part II

Although the foregoing is sufficient to dispose of this matter, the Court wishes to address a related question which has arisen in this and other matters before the Court in recent terms, namely, what is the proper procedure for litigating constitutional questions within student government vis-à-vis the Election Board? In the Yousuf matter, Mr. Yousuf was prosecuted for an alleged violation of the Election Code and sought to defend against those charged by claiming that the relevant Election Code provision was unconstitutional. In another recent case, a student was denied the opportunity to be placed on the ballot for the upcoming assembly elections and claimed, during her petition to the Election Board, that she was constitutionally entitled to be placed on the ballot. The question of how to litigate constitutional claims related to elections has caused considerable confusion in several recent matters. We resolve it now.

The Constitution of MSA states at V.E.2 “All questions of operation administration, all disputes, and all complaints of violations of the regulations concerning [MSA] elections shall be initiated at the Election Board.” Accordingly, we find that all questions related to an MSA election must first be pursued before the Election Board. However, after a searching review of the Constitution and Compiled Code, we conclude that the Election Board is without the power to hear or rule on constitutional claims or defenses. That is, when a student wishes to challenge an election code provision as unconstitutional, or defend himself against prosecution for violating an election code provision on the grounds that such a provision is unconstitutional, those claims may not be heard by the Election Board. Only CSJ is sufficiently qualified and constitutionally empowered rule on the constitutionality of MSA’s duly-passed statutes. Thus, a party with a constitutional claim need not bring it to the Election Board nor preserve it for appeal in order to be entitled to bring it before CSJ.

Instead, the dispute should be fully litigated at the Election Board under the assumption that all relevant provisions of the election code are constitutional. This requirement is consistent with the CSJ Manual of Procedure 51.222, which states “CSJ requires that a [party] exhaust remedies in lower judicial bodies (where such bodies exist) before brining a [case] to CSJ.” Often, this proceeding before the Election Board will result in findings of fact or interpretations of the Election Code, all of which the Election Board is constitutionally empowered to make.

When, and only when, the Election Board has ruled on the issue, a party with a constitutional claim or defense should address that question to CSJ and pursue it as a matter of original jurisdiction. Thereafter, because CSJ has jurisdiction over the constitutional question and it has not been litigated before, CSJ will automatically convene a three member panel to hear the issue in original jurisdiction. Ordinary trial proceedings will be conducted and a ruling on the merits will issue if appropriate.

That same three member panel may, but need not, review the factual and legal determinations of the Election Board in the case. This review will be conducted in appellate jurisdiction, and the three member trial panel retains absolute discretion over whether and which issues it will review. This is consistent with our Manual of Procedure at 51.222, which states “CSJ has complete discretion as to which issues, if any, it wishes to consider in an appeal.” If the three member panel chooses to review the decisions of the Election Board, it retains the power to reverse those decisions and order relief as appropriate. This is consistent with CSJ’s constitutional role as judicial overseer of election related disputes. The Constitution at V.D and V.D.1 state respectively that “CSJ shall have appellate jurisdiction over the Assembly’s General Elections [and all other elections],” and “CSJ shall act as the appellate court for all complaints of violations concerning these elections.”

Once a three member panel has ruled on a constitutional issue, and whether or not the Election Board’s decisions have been reviewed by that panel, a litigant remains free to appeal either or both of those determinations to the full CSJ. Pursuant to our Manual and our interpretation of the MSA Constitution, CSJ retains absolute discretion on whether to grant an appellate hearing using a super-panel to review the determinations of the Election Board, or of the three member panel of CSJ, or both. Although the MSA Constitution guarantees a right to appeal at XII.A.13, as stated above, we understand that right to require that a superior judicial body exist that is capable of overruling the lower court’s determination and that the appellant be able to petition that superior body to hear his claims. The right to an appeal does not, however, automatically entitle an appellant to have his appeal heard and ruled on in a full hearing. Parties in actions tried before the Election Board or CSJ will be entitled to request appellate review on their constitutional claims, or their factual claims, as they see fit. CSJ retains absolute discretion to decide which claims it will and will not hear in appellate jurisdiction.

Pursuant to the sections of our Manual of procedure governing appeals, where an appellate hearing is requested, a panel of the appropriate number of Justices will be convened. That panel will decide whether to grant the petition for hearing in the first instance, by a majority vote. If the panel declines to hear the matter on appeal, a litigant may make a motion for reconsideration to the entire CSJ. At that point, a vote of four Justices to grant the appeal will allow the appellate hearing to proceed. CSJ may grant appeal on some or all issues as it exclusively deems appropriate.

Although we note that the procedure outlined above was not utilized to resolve the Talley matter, we nevertheless decline to re-hear that case. Mr. Talley received a binding decision from the highest judicial body in MSA, and that decision will be final. The procedure outlined above will be utilized in all future cases.

Conclusion

Due to a failure to obtain four votes, it is the judgment of the Court that Petitioner Talley’s petition for re-hearing is DENIED.

Dated this 31st of March, 2010

Chief Justice Michael Huston, for the full Court.