Senior Dev Dabke, chief justice for Duke Student Government's Judiciary Branch, has helped lead efforts to expand the role of the DSG Judiciary in protecting student rights on campus. Dabke spoke with The Chronicle’s Stefanie Pousoulides to reflect on his tenure and the inner workings and evolution of the Judiciary. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Chronicle: Why did you join the Judiciary?

Dev Dabke: Over the summer, between my first year and sophomore year, I had a few friends in DSG mention that the DSG Judiciary was going to be opening applications for new justices. At the time, the Judiciary just wasn’t really staffed. There was just one person on it, Dana Raphael. Something that I learned very quickly after reading the DSG Constitution was that it seemed like the Judiciary was poised to defend and protect student rights and that seemed to be its principal mission. I realized that it was a sort of a branch of government that was reforming, so I thought there might be an opportunity to really get involved and take on more of a leadership role. So, I applied.

TC: What is your role as Chief Justice?

DD: I actually have two roles. One is just as a justice. So, there are seven justices on the Judiciary. It’s really the heart blood of the Judiciary. All major decisions are made by a majority of justices, and I usually try to build a consensus. So, as a justice, I’ll do legal reviews. I’ll investigate various policy items to make sure they are in compliance with the Constitution, the bylaws and other provisions that we are bound to–like the Duke Community Standard. 

As a Chief Justice, the two big roles that I take on is giving out advisory opinions. Different student groups on campus will contact me or informally people in DSG contact me asking for legal advice. The Chief Justice has that constitutional prerogative to issue non-binding advisory opinions

The second big thing, of course, is setting the vision for the Judiciary such as managing resources, launching the Office of Public Advocacy really spearheading that acting as the face of the Judiciary or for example when we were revising our clerkship program I was lucky to sort of restructure our clerkship program and revamp it to have good programming so we could find really good people to work in the Judiciary.

TC: What is the procedure for someone to become an Associate Justice versus a Chief Justice? 

DD: The final decision about who becomes an [Associate] Justice and who becomes Chief Justice falls to Senate, so they take a vote on it. Now, how people become an associate justice is a little bit more complicated because we now have a clerkship program. The clerkship program is sort of a feeder for becoming [an Associate Justice]. But, beyond that, people on campus are welcome to apply, welcome to get involved. The best way now that we have a really robust clerkship program is to come through that because that’s really when you spend time getting trained both in terms of legal practice and legal craft but also knowledge of how DSG works, how the Judiciary operates, how to actually write an opinion, ask questions. 

[For] the Chief Justice selection, there actually is kind of a succession path. There is a position of the Associate Chief Justice, and I think someone who wanted to become Chief Justice should probably try to make a move to become Associate Chief Justice. And that’s actually chosen by the current Chief Justice. However, that’s not like a hard and fast rule. It’s like an indication that someone might be interested, but it’s ultimately the Senate that picks out of the current sitting Justices whom would be the Chief.

TC: What were your goals when you began your tenure in the Judiciary and did they change? And, if so, what experiences shaped that change?

DD: I became Chief Justice in early February of 2017, and the two goals I articulated then were accessibility and consistency, and I continue to stand by those two goals. 

Those [goals] are kind of abstract. What consistency means is that the reason we have the right to due process codified in the Constitution is because we have expectations about how the government is going to work. One of my biggest goals for Judiciary was that we were consistent in our jurisprudence, to make sure DSG as a whole was consistent. That way, students would be given equal protection of the laws, everyone would be given their fair due process rights. And, that can’t really happen if you’re not maintaining the record, if you’re not applying the law in the same way and in the same situations. That was my first pillar, to make sure that the Judiciary was very consistent, making sure that DSG was consistent. 

My other big goal was accessibility. I want to make sure that students can actually access the judiciary. I want to make sure that students can access DSG. Students have a lot of rights on campus, but I feel like most people don’t know what they are. People don’t know how to get in touch with someone who could help them. So that accessibility goal for me is really about making sure that students can find a way to fight for their rights or advocate for their rights when they need to.

TC: You presented three initiatives–inclusion and diversity, the Office of Public Advocacy and the [Krzyzewskiville] investigation–during the DSG Judiciary update at the Senate’s Jan. 31 session. Have there been any developments on these initiatives since that meeting?

DD: The Office of Public Advocacy is in full swing. Associate Justice Analese directly with OPA. We have been interviewing a lot of candidates, have had items going out in the DSG blast and we are really aggressively recruiting for new advocates. Although we do have some new internal advocates, we want to expand the program to have better coverage across the student body. Right now, for OPA, it is a time of expansion and formalization, like the Judiciary was a couple years ago. In terms of our inclusion and diversity efforts, I want to give a similar sentiment to what I just said about OPA. We are trying to be much more aggressive about recruiting. We are trying to be a lot more aggressive in reaching out to groups that we think we need to. So Analese and I are trying to make contact with different groups on campus that may not be fully represented in DSG. 

TC: As far as the investigation for K-Ville, have there been any new developments?

DD: So, it’s actually kind of interesting. I know that there may have been a little bit more controversy perhaps than was intended over the report. The Judiciary has the investigatory power of DSG, and we have been doing investigations for a while. I think because this was a larger initiative, we wanted a larger report, a more formalized report. Because sometimes what will happen is that we will conduct the investigation and I’ll write a short write-up of it and send an email to a relevant person. In this case, the principal investigator and the person who really spearheaded the investigation was the Associate Chief Justice Ross [Winston] and he thought it best to have a nice retrospective formal report that sort of clarified the very detail of K-Ville policy. Like I said, that report really wasn’t supposed to be something that affected K-Ville now it was more retrospective of what has happened in the last few years—sort of an invocation into the future for how to deal with K-Ville policy.

TC: In light of the recent Young Trustee elections, have there been any questions directed to the Judiciary about the campaigns or election procedure for this year?

DD: During the actual election itself, there were some concerns that were flagged but they were fairly technical concerns about one of the holdings that we had in Taylor v. Pate, which was our election case last year and about how that applied to how ballots were sent in. But, we were able to resolve that fairly quickly with the Attorney General.... But you know once the election is open, once the ballots are open, the Attorney General is on call. I’m on call. The Judiciary is on call. We try to respond to those questions very, very quickly to make sure we are addressing issues that might become large, but fortunately there were no major issues. The election seemed to be run well. The Judiciary will probably officially certify it in the next 24 hours. Honestly, it was a very clean election.