The Duke Student Government Judiciary is looking to play a bigger role in settling disputes on campus. 

Any organization or person affiliated with DSG, as well as groups registered through the Student Organization Funding Committee and the University Center for Activities and Events, are within the Judiciary’s jurisdiction. The Judiciary has only handled one case since 2014, but justices said they hope to see the Judiciary’s presence on campus increase so students can settle disputes within student organizations.

“They keep DSG in check,” wrote DSG Attorney General Annie Adair, a junior, in an email. “Many rules in the bylaws have been changed because people sue DSG in court and parts of the bylaws were ruled unconstitutional. It’s comforting to know that there’s a final authority in order to ensure fairness and transparency throughout any and all processes.”

As one of the three branches of DSG, the seven-member judiciary reviews decisions made by the Senate and other student organizations to make sure they comply with DSG’s bylaws, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Larger cases involving student conduct or academic dishonesty are handled by administrative bodies such as the Undergraduate Conduct Board and the University Judicial Board, instead of the Judiciary.

“For students who have issues with the way DSG does something or the way a student organization does something, the Judiciary is a really valuable resource for them in terms of making sure that their rights aren’t being violated,” said Chief Justice Dana Raphael, a junior and columnist for The Chronicle.

To make a claim to the Judiciary, students have to fill out an automated Google form. Raphael reviews the case with the other justices, and if the other justices unanimously agree, the Judiciary can issue a decision without hearing the case. However, this type of decision is rare, Raphael said. 

Case hearings are held in the DSG office and are open to the public. Usually, the Judiciary delivers decisions on the same day, but some deliberations take longer for more complex cases, Raphael explained. 

Adair wrote that the Judiciary has the final word of authority, giving them the potential to impact students on campus.

This year, the only case the Judiciary has tried, Geng v. Adair, involved SOFC chair candidate Gwen Geng’s use of the official SOFC email address to distribute campaign materials. The Judiciary’s ruling upheld Adair’s decision to deduct 300 votes from Geng, which led to overturning the initial election result in favor of junior Alexa Soren. 

The Judiciary has been active in the past in interpreting election guidelines.

The 2013 case Dinner and Wang v. Board of Elections was about the use of ePrint and other similar resources, which do not technically cost money, to produce campaign materials. Ultimately, the case eased restrictions on how candidates run for office, and Raphael said it was the biggest case the Judiciary has ever ruled on.

“DSG assigned a dollar amount to those materials, even though they didn’t cost money, because you only get a certain amount of money to run each campaign,” Raphael said. “It was a bit of a technical case, but it essentially ruled that students do have some level of freedom in running for office.”

Within DSG, the Judiciary is the least active branch, especially when compared to the Senate’s weekly meetings and separate committee meetings, Raphael said, despite its importance as a method of recourse for students. Members of the Judiciary are not permitted to declare public support for DSG candidates, in order to maintain neutrality. 

“That backseat role is really important so that students have faith in us if they do end up coming to us,” Raphael said. “We’re not a politicized body. We’re a body that makes sure that the decisions DSG makes respect students’ rights.”

In addition to hearing cases, the Judiciary also swears in new members of DSG. Individual justices may consult with students seeking interpretation for a case they are considering filing. During elections, the justices also respond to inquiries from students confused about procedure and bylaws.

Raphael attributed the lack of cases filed to students either not being aware of the Judiciary or trying to resolve the matter without initiating a lawsuit. For next year, the Judiciary’s goal is to raise its profile on campus, primarily through adding a more informative page to the DSG website, she said. 

“We’re hoping that students will recognize that we are a resource they can utilize and if they have an issue, they’re more than welcome to bring it forward,” Raphael said.