Duke Student Government must now accept electronic signatures on petitions in addition to hard copies.
Late Tuesday morning, the DSG Judiciary unveiled its ruling on the case of Daniel Strunk v. DSG—formerly known as The $100 Plan v. DSG. The announcement came after nearly 14 hours after the Judiciary first convened to hear the case Monday night.
The case centered around the burden placed on students when they wish to have a referendum question placed on an election ballot. Senior Daniel Strunk acted as the petitioner in the case, thus recusing himself from the role of chief justice of DSG.
In a four-part decision, the Judiciary established that students do in fact have the right to referendum, found that DSG must accept electronic signatures, recognized multiple ways in which a student’s signature can be verified and upheld DSG’s three-week submission timeline.
“[The ruling] establishes an important standard that students cannot be unreasonably burdened when seeking to petition the government via referendum,” Strunk said. “This helps promote student involvement in the government and increases the likelihood that referendums will take place.”
He added that he was “very pleased” with the results of the case.
“It is a victory for students under the Bill of Rights,” Strunk said.
Of the six justices that heard the case, four constituted the majority opinion. Justice Joseph Denton, a sophomore, and Justice Catherine Fei, a freshman, both disagreed with the ruling.
“A disturbing precedent has been set today. Essentially, the Judiciary is acting as a legislative body. This is both irresponsible and detrimental to governance,” their dissent read.
Under previous DSG bylaws, any individual or group who wishes to have a referendum question placed on an election ballot must either obtain the approval of two-thirds of the Senate or obtain the signatures of 15 percent of the undergraduate student body. The latter option of which stipulates that signatures must be collected with each signer’s printed name, signature and their telephone number. Additionally, the petition must be submitted to the DSG Attorney General at least three weeks before the election.
"The bylaws are about the specifics," Strunk said. "I am saying those bylaws are unconstitutional because they violate the rights that the student body has...The constitution is superior to the bylaws."
Strunk argued that regulations put in place by these bylaws infringe on student rights as established by the DSG Constitution and Bill of Rights—including the right to petition DSG.
In the petitioner’s argument, 40 Percent Plan argued that DSG can only burden the execution of a fundamental right—such as the right to petition—if it passes an explicit test for strict scrutiny as established by the case Dinner and Wang v. Board of Elections.
DSG Executive Vice President Nikolai Doytchinov, a junior, and DSG Attorney General Syed Adil, a sophomore, represented the respondent.
Doytchinov argued that DSG is within its rights to require these stipulations to have a referendum question placed on an election ballot because they need to be able to validate all of the signatures collected.
"In my memory, there has not been a single referendum initiated by petition," Doytchinov said.
When asked if this pointed to evidence that the process to initiate a referendum by petition was unduly burdensome, Doytchinov said he respectfully disagreed.
"It is actually quite plausible that Duke students simply haven't gotten particularly riled up about any constitutional DSG issues," he said. "The DSG Constitution is mostly a document of internal rules and procedures."
The 40 Percent Plan is a petition to allow students to designate where they would like to allocate 40 percent of their student activities fee each semester. Currently, the approximately $120 fee per semester is entirely given to the Student Organization Funding Committee to fund student groups as they see fit.
Strunk said that The 40 Percent Plan was prompted to file the case after they began collecting signatures for their petition electronically, but were informed that their method of collection was invalid.
This is the first case in which DSG as a whole was the respondent since the 2010 case of Bergmann, Robinette v. DSG— in which the court made two rulings regarding DSG election procedure. In that case, the judiciary found that the BOE had the authority to extend or push back the date of an election. It also found that the BOE had the ability to accept additional candidates for a campaign even after campaigning has already started.