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SG Supreme Court divided on referendum decision

Chief Justice Milton Llinas released an opinion in opposition to the SG Supreme Court’s ruling that the divestment referendum meets all validity requirements. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

The Student Referendum “USF Divest from fossil fuels, private prisons and companies complicit in human rights violations” officially made it onto the March ballot last week. 

However, there’s still contention within Student Government (SG) over the referendum’s place there.

Chief Justice Milton Llinas released an opinion in opposition to the SG Supreme Court’s ruling that the referendum meets all validity requirements.

“In regards to the points of validity and constitutionality of the language used in the referendum, my final decision fell in accordance with the rest of the court…” Llinas wrote. “My opinion, however, differs on the aspect of consistency for a variety of reasons that I rationalized differently from the rest of the Court present that day and that I ultimately thought the.”

The referendum encourages the USF Foundation to create a council that would offer advice on socially responsible investments such as avoiding companies contributing to fossil fuel emissions, supporting private prisons, or allegedly linked to human rights violations. SG referendums are not binding, and the Foundation would not have to do so if the referendum were to pass. 

In order to get on the ballot, a petition for the referendum needed to receive signatures from at least 5 percent of the Tampa campus student body. This was officially met Friday, after the signatures were checked.

Additionally, the referendum needed to be deemed constitutional by the SG Supreme Court, which it was early last week.

Llinas dissented from the final decision due to concerns that the language in the referendum resolution and the reasoning — what students will actually see on the ballot — is substantially different, the fact that the referendum groups all three issues together and a technicality within the court.

According to Llinas’ opinion, the referendum resolution makes it sound like through the creation and work of a Socially Responsible Investment committee, USF would stop investing in these issues. However, upon reading the reasoning, he felt the primary goal was different.

“In contrast to what the referendum says, the reasoning makes disinvestment the primary goal of this referendum,” he wrote. “This means to me that the intention for this referendum was to ask USF to first stop investing in private prisons and certain companies and then establish the previously mentioned committee to ‘screen for unethical investments in the future.’

“To me, this is clearly a consistency issue because students who signed the petition did not see the reasoning on the original forms.”

He disagreed with the overall court ruling because both documents are written in such a way “only one side is presented and because of that it does not allow for a student … to make a fully informed decision on the issues presented in the referendum.”

For instance, he used the example that a student may be against human rights violations and private prisons, but in support of the use of fossil fuels. The student would only be able to vote for, against, or no preference to all three issues, not each individually. 

Llinas’ third reason for dissenting has to do with court procedures. When it came to ruling on the consistency of the referendum, the court initially voted, received more information and decided to revote.

He said this doesn’t reflect how a court should work and that after a court votes on something that decision is final unless it gets overturned by a higher court. In this case, since SG only has one court, the issue would be taken to the Dean of Students to resolve.

“This decision was made with great personal difficulty, but with my role also comes a professional from of mind I must uphold and it is because of all the reasons mentioned in this opinion, that I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion in regards to the Student Referendum in question meeting the consistency factor required for placement on the ballot,” Llinas wrote.