ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico student senator and avowed communist who was suspended this week for “malfeasance” by the Student Court said Thursday that she is appealing the sentence on free speech grounds.
The court found that Rebecca Hampton voted to deny a $300 funding request by the College Democrats because of the group’s political viewpoints.
That violates a section of the Associated Students UNM Law Book that calls for financial disbursements to be made in a viewpoint-neutral manner, the court said.
In the opinion, Justice Seth Barany said it is clear that Hampton’s vote was based on political viewpoints.
Hampton is appealing the suspension as a free speech issue through the Office of the Dean of Students but hasn’t yet drafted formal paperwork.
Using student fees for events that are only accessible or engaging to perhaps a few thousand students is irresponsible, Hampton said.
“This is a fundamental question of fairness,” College Democrats President Torin Hovander, the plaintiff, said during the hearing. “When senators become senators, they have certain beliefs, but whatever biases they have should be left at the door.”
“The ASUNM Constitution defines malfeasance as a ‘commission of a wrongful act which an official has no legal right to do, or any wrongful conduct which affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty, or an act for which there is no authority or warrant of law,'” Barany said in the opinion.
“Senator Hampton’s conduct … is an act for which there is no warrant of law and it clearly interferes with the performance of her official duty to allocate money in a viewpoint neutral manner. As such the Court finds her guilty of malfeasance.”
Barany said Thursday that Hampton “has a history of disfavoring appropriation requests based on viewpoints,” but he could not say if the College Republicans had ever been affected.
Hampton’s communism was never a consideration, Barany said.
“Not in the slightest,” he said. “It was her attitude toward the viewpoint of others.”
Barany also said Hampton “stood up and gave a fairly impassioned speech” in denying the appropriation for voter registration materials and ice cream.
Hampton said she was not the only senator involved in the decision, “but I was the only one to make a statement.”
Hampton referred a reporter to a letter that ran in Thursday’s Daily Lobo, the campus newspaper.
It is “irresponsible, dangerous and unacceptable for Justice Barany to incorrectly quote a U.S. Supreme Court case to legitimize a ridiculous decision by ASUNM,” said law student John Mitchell, referring to a federal case the opinion cited as precedent.
Moreover, the ASUNM law Barany referred to applies to the group as a whole, not an individual senator, Mitchell said. “If ASUNM had denied the appropriation based on the viewpoint of the UNM College Democrats, this section would give the College Democrats a reason to dispute the decision,” he wrote.
He called Hampton’s suspension “a very dangerous precedent.”