Editorial: ASA lawsuit against ABOR not fair to students paying price
Sometimes you can do the right thing, but go about it the wrong way.
Last week, a statewide student lobbying organization filed suit against the Arizona Board of Regents, alleging that the board had violated the organization’s First Amendment rights.
The Arizona Students’ Association, which aims to represent Arizona university students in the state Legislature, may have a point, though the group will have to prove it first.
“If they can show that somehow they got singled out, and their money was taken away because of the political viewpoint that they hold, then they have a much stronger First Amendment argument,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director for the Student Press Law Center.
The lawsuit came on the heels of the regents’ decision to revise the group’s student fee. Students will now have to opt in to the fee, rather than being required to pay and then requesting a refund if they wish.
ASA first began weighing the possibility of taking legal action against ABOR in December, immediately after the regents voted 7-2 to suspend the fee’s collection for the spring semester.
Any lengthy suspension of ASA’s funding is going to be difficult to defend in court, LoMonte said.
ASA alleges that the fee’s suspension and the subsequent decision to make it an “opt-in” fee was retaliation for a $120,000 donation the group made to the Vote Yes on Proposition 204 campaign last fall. The proposition, which failed in November, would have extended a one-cent sales tax increase collected for education funding.
Gov. Jan Brewer, an ex-officio member of ABOR, opposed the proposition. Brewer appointed many of the current regents.
ASA is vital in providing a voice for students in the Legislature, and if the organization is not guaranteed the ability to speak freely for students without facing a suspension of funding, it can’t really fulfill its mission.
However, it is regrettable that the Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate failed to pass a resolution on Wednesday set forth by Sens. Logan Bilby and Valerie Hanna. The resolution, also supported by Sens. Morgan Abraham and Vinson Liu, would have declared the senate’s opposition to the use of student fees to sue ABOR.
Since the only funding ASA receives is its $2-per-semester student fee, it’s reasonable for ASA to use student money to file suit — but it’s wrong to use student money without taking students’ opinions into account. That’s the real issue, not whether it’s wrong for ASA to take legal action in defense of First Amendment freedoms like exercising political speech.
ASA prides itself on being a voice of the students, and yet ASA failed to take students’ voices into account in its decision to sue the regents over an issue of free speech.
During Wednesday’s senate meeting, ASUA President Katy Murray referred to a stack of papers as proof that ASA had the support of the student body.
In reality, those papers were simply interest cards handed out at some club meetings and classes, and all students did with the cards was was agree to join an email listserv run by ASA.
Not once were students polled about using fee money to support the lawsuit. ASA didn’t even officially ask the student government officials of the three state universities — people who were elected, not appointed, to represent students — their opinions about waging legal battle with the universities’ governing board.
If anything, last night’s senate vote came about two months too late. A vote should have been requested by ASA and held prior to filing suit.
But that doesn’t matter now. With the senate’s vote last night, ASUA now officially supports ASA’s lawsuit against ABOR.
What’s sad is that even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t make a difference to ASA.
— Editorials are determined by the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s editorial board and written by one of its members. They are Kristina Bui, Dan Desrochers, Casey Lewandrowski, K.C. Libman and Sarah Precup. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .