The temporary restraining order issued by a Travis County Court judge on the Student Government presidential elections has been extended to March 27, leaving the newly elected general assembly leaderless until at least then.
Leo Barnes, UT associate vice president for legal affairs, said the court extended the restraining order on the Madison Gardner lawsuit and that UT is still considering all of its options regarding the case. Former SG presidential candidate Madison Gardner appealed to Judge Tim Sulak on Feb. 27 to issue a temporary restraining order on the SG president and vice president elections and review the basis of his and running mate Antonio Guevara’s disqualification.
Barnes said the extension does not necessarily mean the issue will go unresolved until then. In a March 2 interview with The Daily Texan, Barnes said UT did not want to appear to have favoritism for particular students in the case. He said UT is always willing to negotiate outside of court.
“We always want to be reasonable and open to talking to people about what options there may be,” Barnes said in the interview. “On this specific thing, we would always be willing to talk to people but don’t know if we would be able to reach an agreement or not.”
Gardner, a former SG presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit against UT and UT Student Government claiming the Election Code the Election Supervisory Board and the Judicial Court used to disqualify him and Guevara was unconstitutional because it violated their first amendment rights to association.
The Election Supervisory Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara on Feb. 22 for associating their campaign with then Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley, who appeared in their printed ad materials, videos and on their website. According to the Election Code, association between any candidates can result in disqualification.
Alden Harris, SG Judicial Court chief justice, said he thinks any settlement by UT that would put Gardner and Guevara back on the ballot is not in the interests of SG and the University.
“We think we made the right decision [to disqualify them],” Harris said. “We think it’s important to enforce the rules of the election. Putting them back on the ballot because they sued is letting them get around the rules.”
Harris said he believes the Election Code does not violate the U.S. Constitution and that he feels Gardner and Guevara do not have a strong case. He said he believes if the University settles the case it will likely be because of the time and money it would take to litigate it.
John Lawler and Thor Lund remain the only presidential candidates on the ballot at the moment and have both said they will continue campaigning until the issue is resolved. Lawler and Lund are allowed to spend an additional $150 for every week the election goes unresolved.
Gardner said he heard about the extension from his lawyer Jason Snell Monday morning and has had no communication with UT legal or the Election Supervisory Board for the past couple of days. He said the lack of development in the case has been tough for his campaign because he and Guevara do not know when to mobilize their supporters and what they are supposed to be preparing for.
Gardner said he does not plan on campaigning until he knows for certain whether he and Guevara will be on the ballot or not.
“I think it will hurt voter turnout because things have been dragging on for so long,” he said. “I think the further you get into spring break, the harder it will to get people to vote.”
Lund said he feels the situation is becoming more about individuals and their personal gains rather than the students and their needs.
“Regardless, we will continue with what we have been doing from day one, and that includes staying positive and focusing on how we can help the student body,” Lund said.
Lawler said although he does not know Gardner, Guevara or their lawyer Snell are thinking, he feels dragging out the election negatively impacts those who have campaigned cleanly and students who do not have the time to follow every minute of the election cycle.
Update: Both parties agreed to extend the temporary restraining order and Judge Suzanne Covington, the presiding judge at the time, approved the extension.