Emory University’s Student Government Association (SGA) President Noah Marchuck (24C) announced Sept. 22 that he vetoed Bill 56sl26, which confirmed Asmita Lehther (24Ox) as an associate justice of the Constitutional Council. The bill was passed on Sept. 12. This is Marchuck’s first veto in his tenure as SGA president.
Marchuck, who originally sponsored the bill, told the Wheel he made his decision after a lack of communication from Lehther about the fact that she was also running to be an Oxford SGA (OxSGA) first-year senator.
Lehther did not mention her involvement with OxSGA on her associate justice application, Marchuck said, despite a specific question asking about “other involvements or possible commitments.” This prevented Marchuck, who personally reviewed all associate justice applications, from flagging Lehther’s application for containing a potential conflict of interest.
Marchuck added that Lehther’s intention to run was also not made clear throughout the rest of the application process. He said Lehther told Chief Justice of the Constitutional Council Pavel Ramirez (23C) she was considering running for Oxford Senate during her interview for the associate justice position. Marchuck added that Lehther allegedly checked with the Oxford attorney general and elections chair, but did not voice her confirmed intent to run with anyone involved with Emory SGA.
“Oxford also reports to us, so she went to the smaller organization, but didn’t check in with the bigger one to make sure it was OK with us,” Marchuck said.
However, Lehther maintained that she was clear about her intentions to run for Oxford SGA during her interview with Ramirez. She also said he reassured her that she could hold both positions after she was sworn in as an associate justice on Sept. 12.
“Basically, Pavel was … just dropping me off to the shuttle and there was a conversation again about that, because that’s how I mentioned [OxSGA President] Andrew [Yang (23Ox)] was wondering whether or not it was possible,” Lehther said. “And it was again affirmed like, ‘Yes, it’s fine.’”
Ramirez noted in an email to the Wheel that Jane Wang (22C) served as both a College Council legislator and an associate justice on the Constitutional Council during the 2018-19 academic year, as there is no rule in the governing documents against serving in two different branches across different bodies of government, such as OxSGA and Emory SGA.
“My telling Asmita that there was no issue with her doing both was purely based on precedent and my interpretation of what was allowed,” Ramirez wrote. “I did not base it upon my decision of whether I believed it was a good idea.”
Lehther noted that she received confirmation that it was OK for her to run for both the Oxford first year senator and associate justice positions in a Sept. 13 email from Yang.
“I checked with our Attorney General and he has confirmed that you are able to hold both FYS and Associate Justice of Constitutional Council,” Yang wrote in the email to Lehther, which she forwarded to the Wheel.
This information, however, was not conveyed to Marchuck.
Lehther said her removal from the associate justice position came as a shock after hearing she was allowed to hold both positions.
“It was difficult for me, because I wasn’t aware of it,” Lehther said. “When you’re told that you weren’t being transparent throughout the process, it’s just frustrating because I tried to take every step I could to make sure that I was communicating with them.”
However, Lehther added that she understands that the purpose of SGA is to act with the best interest of the student body, so she does not hold any animosity toward Marchuck.
“I’d rather just find out the ways that I can be involved as a senator and just try and help with that,” Lehther said. “Even if that means that I could have or should have been involved with the associate justice position, it wouldn’t make sense for me to focus all of my attention on that when there are more pressing issues on campus.”
While on a phone call with Lehther on Sept. 22, SGA Speaker of the Legislature Alyssa Stegall (21Ox, 23C) advised her to present her case for holding both positions to Yang and Marchuck, as well as to Emory SGA Advisor Lisa Loveall and OxSGA Advisor Michaela Foronda.
“At the time, I believed that was the best course of action given how the situation stood and I was under the impression that she decided to follow that advice,” Stegall wrote in a statement to the Wheel.
Marchuck was also on the call with Stegall and Lehther, during which he said he did not mention the veto because his first intention was to see Lehther’s perspective and to clear up any potential misunderstandings. However, he said they were not able to work out an immediate solution.
“She was not ready to let go of either position or understand the position I was coming from,” Marchuck said.
Lehther alleged that during their conversation, Marchuck said he would keep an open mind and wait until after she presented her case to make a decision. However, she only had time to talk to Foronda — who Lehther said approved her reasoning — before the veto was announced that night at 11:37 p.m., which Lehther found frustrating.
“If I had had a little more than less than 12 hours, I would have been able to talk to people about it, or at least just present my interpretation of the Constitution, which is also kind of ironic, because that was going to be my job,” Lehther said.
Despite this, Stegall stood by Marchuck’s decision.
“I would like to make it clear that just because my advice to Asmita was not what Noah chose to do, does not negate the fact that he acted within reason,” Stegall wrote. “At the end of the day, the three branches of government are separate but equal, and Noah acted as the head of the Executive branch.”
Marchuck clarified that Lehther’s decision to run was not what led him to veto the bill. Although both Oxford First-year Senate and Constitutional Council can be significant time commitments, he said he could have discussed alternative options or ways to find a balance between the two jobs with her.
Ultimately, Marchuck’s reasoning behind the veto was her lack of communication to him about her intent to run, and the minimal time he had to provide a solution, he said.
“I don’t believe she’s the best candidate for an associate justice position anymore,” Marchuck said. “We’re supposed to stay true to the values of SGA, and by not remaining transparent throughout this process, I don’t believe that she still has that standing, and there are other candidates … who I believe will be transparent about these issues going forward.”
Lehther said she was “hurt” by Marchuck’s description of her as no longer being the most qualified candidate, which he also mentioned in his Sept. 22 letter to SGA members.
“I was frustrated by the association of my merit as a candidate with this whole process,” Lehther said. “I did my best to clarify everything and to have that communication aspect.”
Marchuck said Lehther prevented him from having enough time to find another solution by not contacting him earlier, as he only has 13 days to veto a bill. Ten days had passed by the time Marchuck learned about Lehther’s OxSGA position on Sept. 21 after she emailed him to let him know she would be late to the retreat because she would be at Oxford training. Marchuck would be spending Sept. 23 to Sept. 25 attending a retreat with the rest of SGA, making Sept. 22 the last day he had to resolve the issue.
“I want to make it very clear that if she had checked it with us, this could have been very different,” Marchuck said. “The reason why I chose to veto it was because I had no timeline.”
Stegall echoed the lack of time Marchuck had to handle the issue.
“At the end of the day, we are students too and expecting SGA to make a decision after the fact rather than giving enough time to speak with everybody is unrealistic and unfair to the people who needed to be a part of that process given how quick of a turnaround there would have needed to be,” Stegall wrote.
According to Lehthner, she will still be a member of Oxford’s First-year Senate and will likely be sworn into office on Wednesday. She noted that confirmation is taking longer than usual due to Oxford First-year Senate Candidate Oscar Li’s (24Ox) disqualification on Sept. 20.
“She will be able to be sworn in an Oxford First-year senator this week, as long as there is no appeals to her election results,” Yang wrote in an email to the Wheel.
Marchuck was not able to confirm Lehther’s standing on OxSGA because the First-year Senate results have not been certified yet.
The SGA Legislature has the power to overturn Marchuck’s veto. In a Sept. 22 email to SGA members, Stegall said any resolutions to override the presidential veto must be submitted to her by noon on Sept. 25. If a resolution is submitted, it will need to receive a two-thirds majority vote of legislators during the next general body meeting on Oct. 17 to pass.
Lehther noted that Oxford-Atlanta Liaisons Uma Shenai (22Ox) and Ellie Fivas (24Ox) have already reached out to her and expressed interest in submitting a resolution. She said that although she was looking forward to working as an associate justice and would like to still hold the position, she believes there are more important topics that members of SGA should be focusing on, such as sustainability.
Marchuck said he believes it is possible that a resolution will be submitted.
“She’s a freshman, she didn’t understand the timeline, which is totally understandable, but at the same time, there was a list of people that she should have reached out to,” Marchuck said. “As the president of the organization that she was belonging to, she never reached out to me, and with any student organization, the president is usually the one who has the most institutional knowledge and internal knowledge.”
If his veto is not overridden, Marchuck said another associate justice applicant will be selected to replace Lehther.
“I don’t want to jump the gun,” Marchuck said. “I don’t want to … kick Asmita out when she still has a chance to come back.”
Marchuck explained that it is rare for a president to veto a bill in SGA, especially for a bill they originally sponsored. Stegall agreed, noting that she has not seen a bill be vetoed throughout her three years on SGA.
“It is within my prescribed power, and I’m acting only in reason,” Marchuck said. “I’m being very cordial about it. It’s nothing personal and I really wish that this hadn’t happened.”
The Elections Reform Commission will take Lehther’s situation into consideration while editing SGA’s governing documents this semester, Marchuck added.
“This is an issue that we’ve already been thinking about, and we’ll have a legislative and permanent answer to it within our governing documents by the end of November,” Marchuck said. “We’ve kept this in mind, and now that it’s happening, we understand why the rules are the rules, and we plan to make it clearer in the future.”
Lehther added that she hopes the procedure for participating in both OxSGA and Emory SGA, as well as for handling any issues that arise, will be addressed.
“I hope that in the future, they’ll be able to clarify those things, so that people who are in my situation don’t have to go through this,” Lehther said.
Update (9/25/22 at 12:37 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that this is Alyssa Stegall’s (21Ox, 23C) fourth year on SGA. In fact, it is her third.
Update (9/25/22 at 6:09 p.m.): This article was updated to include comments from Pavel Ramirez (23C) and Andrew Yang (23Ox).