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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Court dismisses ASA’s lawsuit against ABOR

A lawsuit filed against the Arizona Board of Regents by the Arizona Students’ Association has recently been dismissed by a U.S. District Court.

ASA, a student organization that lobbies for affordable and accessible higher education, filed the lawsuit in February, after the Regents voted to change a $2 per-student, per-semester fee to an opt-in fee. While some student fees are opt-out, meaning students are automatically charged the fee but can request a refund, the opt-in fee requires students to agree to the fee before paying.

The lawsuit claimed that the board had violated the First Amendment rights of ASA. In November 2012, the Regents voted to suspend the fee for the spring 2013 semester, after ASA donated more than $100,000 to a campaign that advocated for Proposition 204. The proposition, which would have extended a sales tax to fund education, did not pass.

According to Katie Paquet, the board associate vice president for public affairs and external relations, the Regents filed a motion to dismiss the suit, and the court found ASA’s claims to be “legally insufficient.”

Being a governing body for the state, the board is entitled to “sovereign immunity” from the lawsuit, Paquet added. The court also determined that the board’s decision to change the fee did not violate the First Amendment.

“We were pleased with the court’s decision,” Paquet said. “The board … values its relationship with students and prior to making its policy decision, the board provided multiple opportunities for ASA and students … to discuss and understand the basis for their decision.”

The new opt-in policy would create a more transparent way for students to willingly contribute to ASA, she said, adding that the board handled the lawsuit properly and made its decision based on concerns raised by students.

“The board [Regents] has treated students and the students’ association with respect throughout the entire policy and legal process,” Paquet said.

Following ASA’s contribution to Proposition 204, Arizona State University’s student government removed ASA from its bylaws in fall 2012, as did the Associated Students of Northern Arizona University this summer. Morgan Abraham, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, said he agrees with the court’s decision and that the lawsuit was unnecessary.

“Hopefully ASA can focus on more important things,” Abraham said, “like the students and, you know, education and policy so they can be done with this.”

The ASUA Senate will vote in the fall whether or not to remove ASA from its bylaws. Although the vote will ultimately be up to the senators, Abraham said the lawsuit dismissal may influence the decision.

“One of the reasons I was a little bit frustrated with ASA was because of the lawsuit,” Abraham said. “And so I think now that the lawsuit is gone … it definitely makes it more attractive for ASUA to be a part of ASA.”

Zachary Brooks, president of the UA’s Graduate and Professional Student Council and a board member of ASA, was in support of the lawsuit and disagreed with the court’s decision. Despite the lawsuit and ASA’s removal from some universities’ student governments, ASA will continue to serve students in the state of Arizona, Brooks added.

“This is a tiny part of what ASA does,” Brooks said. “What ASA does is much bigger than this. So I’d rather focus on 540,000 students than I would rather worry about one small court case.”

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