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ASUA Supreme Court 'unsure' of jurisdiction

By Erin Mahoney
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 29, 1999
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The ASUA Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that it could not yet issue a formal opinion about whether the UA student government ignores the U.S. constitution.

Associated Students Sen. Ty Trujillo and former President T.J. Trujillo charged ASUA Jan. 19 with using tuition money to fund political and religious groups, therefore violating students' constitutional rights.

According to Tuesday's finding, an advisory opinion can be issued only at the request of a majority of the ASUA Senate, or if a "case or controversy" is filed by plaintiffs.

Under a "case or controversy," ASUA would be forced to defend itself to the Trujillos in an actual court setting, T.J. Trujillo said.

ASUA Supreme Court officials said they were unsure if they should make decisions referring to the U.S. Constitution.

A federal court ruled in August that University of Wisconsin-Madison violated the U.S. Constitution by forcing its students to help finance on-campus clubs with political or religious agendas.

There is a policy in place at the University of Arizona, however, that may buffer ASUA from funding peril.

The UA Funding Guidelines and Bylaws state that ASUA will only fund political and religious organizations for "administrative, execution or maintenance of non-political/non-religious programs or special events deemed beneficial to the student body by ASUA."

About $375,000 of ASUA's nearly $800,000 1997-98 budget came from UA Associated Students Bookstore revenues and about $265,000 from mandatory student fees.

ASUA does give money to political and religious organizations, but students can choose to shop at the UA bookstore or at one of its off-campus competitors. Students are not forced to make purchases that support UA clubs and organizations.

"This is probably one of the most critical issues to come before a student government," T.J. Trujillo said. "The ASUA needs to lead by example."

Ty Trujillo said despite Tuesday's finding, he and his brother will attempt to prove that the Supreme Court must incorporate the U.S. Constitution.

University of Arizona attorney Mike Proctor said yesterday he was not familiar enough with ASUA's structure to offer an official opinion.

"As a general rule, student courts are set up in a manner that limits their jurisdiction," he said.

During a presentation at Wednesday night's Senate meeting, the Trujillos explained the decision to "help everyone to understand what's going on" within the court, Ty Trujillo said.

The brothers said they are unsure whether they will pursue Senate support or develop the "case or controversy."

"We're going to play it by ear," Ty Trujillo said.

Both Trujillos explained the complaint and the ruling to senators, urging them to take a stand on the issue.

While the Trujillos stated in their complaint that they object to the Senate taking "ideological acts" into its own hands, Sen. Janet Rico reminded Ty Trujillo that he voted in favor of denouncing an Arizona Daily Wildcat cartoon for being "insensitive" in September.

Trujillo was part of a unanimous Senate vote that condemned the Wildcat for a comic strip some deemed homophobic.

"I did vote for that," Ty Trujillo said, "(But) last semester I started realizing what was going on."

After the presentation, some ASUA senators remained concerned about a funding overhaul.

Sen. Ben Graff said although the Trujillos did not set out to endanger funding, peril could await ASUA.

"With this campaign comes the campaign: 'let's not give ASUA money,' " Graff said.

Although the Trujillos claim that ASUA can fund student groups "one way or another," Sen. Josue Limon said he does not believe student services are adequately backed by tuition dollars.

"I'm not seeing the proof here," Limon said "The funding structure has been shown to be constitutional."

ASUA President Tara Taylor said she had mixed feelings about the complaint.

"There are a lot of things to be looked at," Taylor said. "There are a few little flaws. We don't have any mandatory student fees."

The Trujillos said they will not let the issue die, and are willing to pursue the matter in an actual courtroom - the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

T.J. Trujillo said this ruling is just another bump on the road.

"Whenever you get to advance a step, there's hope," he said.

The debate over the constitutionality of religious club funding from student fees has been an ongoing issue, as illustrated by previous Wildcat articles:

Wisconsin court rules on university club funding (Aug. 25, 1998)
ASUA fees for certain groups unconstitutional, senator says (Jan. 20, 1999)