Shiwanni Johnson - Headshot.jpg

Shiwanni Johnson is the chief justice of ASUO's constitution court. (courtesy of Shiwanni Johnson)

The ASUO constitution provides for a five-member constitution court, tasked with hearing complaints and proposed constitutional amendments, as well as ensure that ASUO is adhering to its own rules. This year’s court has yet to hold any formal meetings — the law school’s finals began right after ASUO filled the remaining three justice positions in November — but it hopes to bridge the disconnect between the University of Oregon law school and the student body at large and to make the most of the branch’s diversity.

The current Con Court is majority-women and entirely People of Color. Chief Justice Shiwanni Johnson said it’s important that “students can see themselves reflected in leadership positions,” especially given that roughly half the members of the law school student body are women and a quarter are students of color.

Johnson said an easily accessible archive of past justices is still a work in progress so it’s unclear if it’s the first time this has been the case, but she said Con Court has been neither all people of color nor majority-women in her three years at UO. That stands out to Associate Justice Adria Escobedo as well. “Being on this court, making history, is super important for me,” she said.

Escobedo said she’s one of five Latina students in her class of 144, something that has been difficult for her and other students of color. “I just want to ensure that those women and those minority populations have a voice,” she said. “It will definitely be reflected in our opinions.”

Johnson said she wants to take current issues and perspectives into account when writing opinions, as well as looking at precedent previous Con Court rulings have set. “The ASUO constitution doesn’t change very much,” she said, “and that could be because it’s already a pretty good document. But the people who are making the decisions and the people who are affected by the constitution do change all the time.”

To better understand the context of the issues they are ruling on, Johnson is trying to facilitate more active engagement between Con Court and the UO student body at large. She said she sees a disconnect between the UO School of Law and the UO undergrad population, as well as between the law school and the rest of ASUO. 

Johnson said this poses a number of issues — especially for student groups in the law school who are trying to navigate funding and the ASUO senate. Although ASUO Senator Natalie Fisher is in the law school, she’s just one person in a mostly undergraduate space.

While the ASUO constitution only mandates that two Con Court justices are second- or third-year law students, all the judicial body’s current members are in the UO School of Law.

Johnson said Con Court provides an opportunity for law students to get involved with the UO community while practicing skills that relate to their future careers. 

However, the reactionary nature of Con Court makes it harder to make connections, Johnson said. If no one is bringing a case to the judicial branch, there’s not much it can do.

Still, Johnson said she plans to reach out to members of the other ASUO branches in hopes of building a community. She said she’s specifically looking at Con Court’s biennial reapportionment of academic senate seats as an opportunity to make connections with senators and the students they represent.

Escobedo said she also sees a relationship between Con Court and the rest of ASUO as important. “Like any government, it works best if the branches work together,” she said.

On a larger scale, Escobedo said she and her fellow justices want to be part of the UO community. “UO is a really special place for us,” she said. “And even though the law school is a little bit isolated, we do have compassion for the greater student body because we’ve all been in undergrad. We’ve all gone through that process and we know how it is being a student in a profit-driven educational system. 

“We definitely want to represent the student body as fairly as possible and rule accordingly,” she said.