Chief Justice steps down, senator not censured

During a Student Government Association Judicial Council censure hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 2, the Judicial Council unanimously decided not to censure an SGA senator, and the Chief Justice resigned effective by the end of the semester. 

The Judicial Council launched an investigation on SGA senator John Winstead, who is also an opinion columnist for the Herald, by a majority vote of the council over comments he made against President Gary Ransdell. 

Winstead received an email from Chief Justice Kelsey Luttrell regarding the investigation on Nov. 18. 

“It has come to our attention that you allegedly held a sign stating ‘impeach Ransdell’ at the homecoming football game, and have posted a picture on Facebook expressing similar dissent against the President,” the email reads. 

Luttrell said as she began to investigate the allegation, no student came forth to testify about what Winstead said or did during the football game. However, Luttrell said she found an image on Winstead’s Facebook page.

The image is of Winstead holding up a picture of Ransdell taped to a cardboard box; it includes a speech bubble displaying the message “Josef Stalin was a good Christian who did nothing wrong.” 

Luttrell then said she found a comment on the image asking Winstead whether Ransdell had ever said this, to which Winstead replied, “Given a post structuralist understanding of language, in some sense we all have.” 

The Judicial Council investigated whether this image and subsequent reply warranted a censure or was protected by Winstead’s freedom of speech. 

They reached the unanimous conclusion not to censure Winstead. 

“The Judicial Council has unanimously decided not to censure John Winstead as he has not engaged in any activity that are (sic) not protected by his First Amendment right to the freedom of speech,” Luttrell said. 

Winstead said he is content with the final decision of the Judicial Council. 

“I feel good. I think the process is just fundamentally flawed. The fact that I was even investigated is the problem I’m objecting to,” said Winstead. 

Winstead also said he doesn’t necessarily think the Judicial Council is trying to take away his freedom of speech. 

“It reveals the cracks in the system that if a Judicial Council member doesn’t agree with the speech then suddenly this can happen,” said Winstead. 

Judy Rohrer, assistant professor and director of the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility also doesn’t agree with the hearing. 

“I don’t think the hearing was necessary. I think the hearing was misguided. It sounds like Judicial Council hasn’t been meeting and they were encouraged to become active. And then they started going after things,” Rohrer said. 

Rohrer is proud of Winstead as a student and the work he has done for the campus. 

“I feel like the work that John Winstead and other student activists have been doing on campus is really a breath of fresh air,” she said. 

Rohrer feels like this is a good example of students being outspoken for their needs and wants from a public institution. 

“I think questioning authority is very healthy for a student body. It’s part of the critical thinking and civic engagement that universities are suppose to be nursing,” she said. 

Luttrell said the Judicial Council was only doing what was asked of them from the SGA Senate and SGA Executive Cabinet earlier in the semester. 

“We were asked to be more active this year,” said Luttrell. “We truly felt it necessary to investigate the student to ensure his actions did not surpass what he’s legally protected to do through freedom of speech.” 

Luttrell said she stands by the final decision the Judicial Council made. 

“I think it was the absolute correct decision. We decided to go through with the hearing because we felt that’s what the procedures that were in place required us to do,” she said. 

During closing comments, Luttrell announced she was stepping down as Chief Justice at the end of the semester.

“As a leader you must make decisions, and the Judicial Council decided to investigate the student and follow procedure to the best of our knowledge. As a result, we’ve been publicly ridiculed not only by the student body, but by members of SGA,” she said. “With a lack of support from fellow SGA members, faculty, staff — for those reasons among many others — I will step down as Chief Justice.” 

A quote reading “…have been doing on campus is really a fresh of breath air,” has been corrected to read “…have been doing on campus is really a breath of fresh air.” The Herald regrets the error.