The chief justice of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) spent over a year in office without being confirmed, violating a constitutional requirement that judiciary members be confirmed during the academic year they are appointed.
Aravinth Pushparaj, appointed last year by USG’s previous president, Ayyan Zubair, was officially confirmed by the USG Senate Thursday night. Last month, associate justices expressed dissatisfaction with Pushparaj’s performance and pointed out that he had not received Senate approval, according to an email that was given to The Statesman.
His Senate confirmation was added to the agenda less than 24 hours before the meeting commenced, violating code requirements that require business to be added at least 48 hours in advance. In another constitutional violation, Pushparaj didn’t deliver monthly reports to the Senate during his time in office.
“I am fully aware of that law and the article, but I have an explanation obviously,” he told the Senate. “The problem was, we were not fully staffed initially. For a long time, we had a lot of problems. Associate justices were graduated, we were still trying to recruit or nominate justices, during which period we could not hold the meetings.”
Sen. Zachary Shaps followed up, saying that it was the Senate’s duty to invite him for monthly updates.
One senator asked why the confirmation didn’t happen in the first place.
“We have multiple copies of the USG constitution and code circulating,” Pushparaj replied. “We have to work as a unit on rectifying that issue, because different versions of it have different statements.”
There is one version of the constitution and code on the USG website, although the link to the code leads to a Google Drive folder with another version of the constitution. Both copies, however, indicate that judiciary members should be Senate-approved within the academic year they were appointed, and that the chief justice should deliver monthly reports to the Senate.
A judiciary member, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation, confirmed that those are the only versions that exist and explained that the multiple versions referred to are old revisions, explicitly labeled with a date in the document name.
They acknowledged that it’s possible people don’t look at the newest version, but there hasn’t been any change to the judiciary language in the code or constitution for years.
About four questions in, Executive Vice President Abdelrahman Salama announced that they would take two more questions.
The USG code indicates that a candidate appointed by the president to the executive or judiciary branches should be interviewed and vetted by an ad-hoc committee appointed by the Senate. The Vetting and Legislative Review traditionally fills that role.
USG Sen. Andrew Machkasov, who came prepared with 16 questions in a Google doc, said that although Pushparaj was interviewed before he was confirmed for associate justice, he was not subject to the same review when he took on the role of chief justice.
“There was no interview this time around, I was forced to sacrifice one question for another, and I felt that all-around the attitude in the air was to conceal information from the Senate,” Machkasov said. “Two years later, I feel as though I know nothing about him.”
Shaps argued for Pushparaj’s confirmation, however.
“I think that the accident of the previous president shouldn’t be reflected today,” he said at the beginning of the meeting. “It shouldn’t be blamed on the current EC [executive council], it should be, not blamed on the past EC, but viewed as a simple error that can be fixed today.”
He said that he highly endorses Pushparaj, calling him very well articulated.
“I feel like he’s made pretty good strides in the justice department, and I think he has valuable expertise within the department,” Shaps said.
Pushparaj was confirmed with three out of 19 votes dissenting.
Sen. Huntley Spencer voted no because Pushparaj will be leaving the position at the end of the semester and believes it would be more efficient to train a new justice during the time instead. He also said that the constitution is old, and USG is working to update it with its administration.
“A lot of the rules and code in there are very much left to the interpretation of whatever administration is in charge,” he said.
Pushparaj, Salama and current USG President Justas Klimavicius did not respond to requests for comments before the article was published.