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Students in Power: Sean Pilares

USG Chief Justice talks of standing his ground amid controversies

By Alban Murtishi
On April 3, 2014

Four years, three controversial presidential campaigns, two of which were mediated directly, and one Chief Justice of the Judiciary Sean Pilares presiding. In terms of sheer influence over USG and campus, Pilares is a political heavyweight, however his actual dispensing of that power is spare, but purposeful.
"The way I describe the judiciary is that we have teeth, but no claws." Pilares said. The judiciary is a responsive unit; only offering judgment and opinion when cases are brought directly to them. Often times this entails deciphering legislation and policy; however, as the case has been for the past three years, the judiciary can hold major sway over the fate of presidential candidates who do not follow the rules.
Pilares got involved in USG as soon as he arrived on campus four years ago. "I started in USG in the fall of my freshman year, I was looking for something to do on campus; leadership among peers was attractive to me as an idea. I'm an eagle scout, so its that mentality of seeing the issue and addressing it."
As a senator, Pilares represented Shippee, and in just his freshman year he was faced with radical changes to a campus he had just step foot on. For example, he joined the task force to advocate for students during the first year the University began to crack down on spring weekend.
In his sophomore year, Pilares made the move to associate justice under the influence of Jarred Ashmore, who was the Chief Justice of the judiciary at the time. During his tenure as an associate justice, Pilares was involved in one of the rare times the judiciary put forth their own insight to an issue, specifically the decriminalization of marijuana related penalties to the level of alcohol related penalties on campus.
This year would also signal the recurring theme plaguing present day USG politics: presidential candidates not following the rules. Pilares got a taste of this after helping preside over the 2012 election, in which one of the three candidates had to be removed for campaign violations.
Although his rise to the Chief Justice position his junior year was a momentous occasion for USG and Pilares, his first term was plagued with politics. Students will remember the doomed campaign of Shiv Gandhi, the USG presidential candidate who had won the popular vote, but was ultimately disqualified from USG for numerous campaign violations. Pilares dealt first hand with the very delicate case, and dispensed his justice. However, Pilares was not alone in his controversial ruling.
"What I need to make clear was it wasn't just my decision, there has to be at least two other people making these decisions."
Pilares and the other justices decided on the disqualification after Gandhi pled guilty to the accusations. However, personal politics almost discredited the career of the Chief Justice.
"My credibility was censured by the senate after that ruling. Shiv had a significant following with senators, and they didn't like what the judiciary ruled, so they tried to cut the judiciary out of the process and make the senate decide on the outcome of the case. And that's clearly one of the most unconstitutional things in the world." Pilares said.
After a presidential veto, the senate ruling was overturned, and, very briefly, Pilares was at peace. However, come re-nomination time, he once again found himself under the scrutiny of his peers.
The members of the nomination committee were some of the same individuals that had supported or were a part of the disqualified Gandhi campaign. Pilares' renomination was subsequently turned down due to poor interviewing performance.
"It was a terrible experience for me because people were lecturing my integrity and supposed conflicts of interest," said Pilares.
However, due to a their being a vacant seat in the judiciary, the president was able to nominate Pilares himself, and he was given a day in front of the senate to have his career reviewed for renomination. And although there were dissenters in the senate, Pilares was reinstated as Chief Justice.
Although this year served déjà vu for USG, with candidate Carlyle Bethel's campaign being disqualified due to policy violation, Pilares has yet to falter under the pressure of such difficult decisions.
"The experience I've had, and the attacks I've seen, have tempered me. You learn to stand by your decision."
Despite various threats to his power, Pilares has weathered through. After leading an otherwise quiet branch of USG through two controversial elections, with equally controversial decisions, Pilares maintains a palpable, yet almost indirect, influence over his fellow students.
For the next Chief Justice, Pilares has some words of advice. ""Follow the policies, they put the policies there for a reason, and do what's right," he said.
However, he followed with, "People may not remember legislation that was passed, but they will remember the hearing decision by Sean Pilares."

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