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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Pros and cons of ASA lawsuit

    When Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2169 into law on Friday, she put the future of a lawsuit over students’ First Amendment rights in jeopardy.

    Since last fall, most of the drama that has surrounded the Arizona Students’ Association, a student-run, statewide lobbying group, has stemmed from ASA’s use of student fees to donate $122,000 the Vote Yes on Proposition 204 campaign during the 2012 election. Prop. 204 would have extended a statewide one-cent sales tax increase to fund education.

    The donation drew questions from student government leaders, most notably those from Arizona State University, who urged the Arizona Board of Regents to scrutinize ASA.

    In November, the board of regents voted to suspend the collection of a $2-per-semester, per-student refundable fee collected on behalf of ASA, leading ASA to launch a lawsuit against the board.

    The lawsuit alleges that the regents had suspended the fee to retaliate against ASA for its donation to Prop. 204 — a decision protected by the organization’s right to exercise free political speech.

    Now HB 2169 will prevent student groups like ASA from collecting fee money from students through a university without their express consent if that money will be used to influence an election. The decision on whether to continue litigation in the wake of HB 2169’s passage will be left to next year’s ASA directors, leaders say.

    Here’s why the lawsuit still matters, and why it doesn’t:

    The lawsuit is important:

    1. Freedom of speech: If ASA’s claims hold up in court, the suspension of its fee would be a major violation of the First Amendment by the board of regents. If ASA is punished any time it supports an effort against the board’s wishes, then it doesn’t really have freedom of speech at all. ASA was designed as a political lobbying group for students, not for the regents.

    2. Sets precedent: There has never been a case over the setting and allocation of student fees in Arizona Supreme Court history. This is kind of a big deal. There may come a time when other fees, such as the Arizona Student Media fee approved by referendum earlier this semester, are called into question. A decision in the ASA case could set a precedent for how other fees are treated.

    3. Who will stand up for students: As of right now, ASA is the only way that students can have a direct voice in legislation without going through the administration or regents. If it is eliminated, students in Arizona will be left with only the student governments for the three state universities lobbying on their behalf. There’s a reason that all three student body presidents got together to form ASA in 1974, and the need for ASA is still there, no matter how well the three future student body presidents may communicate. As ASUA President Katy Murray said, “It’s really about us as students being able to have an organization that allows us to fight for what we believe in.”

    The lawsuit doesn’t matter:

    1. ASA is done: Even if ASA were to win the lawsuit, the passage of HB 2169 has pretty much destroyed the organization’s source of funding. This means that from a “saving ASA” standpoint, the lawsuit means nothing.

    2. Hypocritical oath: In suing the board of regents, ASA is doing exactly what caused Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) to draft HB 2169 in the first place. Basically, he said that ASA shouldn’t be able to spend money on political activity that not every student agrees with. With this lawsuit, ASA is doing exactly that. Yes, defending the First Amendment is important, but not even every student government in the state supports this action, let alone every student.

    3. Visibility: You can blame it on ASA or you can blame it on the apathy of students, but quite frankly, not enough students care about ASA. The $2 student fee was inconsequential, and ASA’s work rarely affected daily life at any of the universities. That’s not to say that ASA never did anything. It was vital in fighting tuition increases for students. It’s just that most students can’t point at a bill and say, “Yeah, ASA prevented that from happening.” If students were engaged in ASA to that extent, then there would be a lot more public outrage over what’s happening with ASA right now.

    While ASA won’t get its student fees back if it wins the lawsuit, it should still go through with it for the sake of legal precedent. ASA’s purpose is to serve as a voice for Arizona students, and this may be its last stand in that effort.

    —Dan Desrochers is the opinions editor. He can be reached at letters@wildcat. or on twitter via @drdesrochers.

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