Alexander Knorr confirmed as 2021-22 ASWU Chief Justice
Alexander Knorr (’22), a former associate justice of the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) and current president of College Republicans, has been named ASWU’s chief justice for the next academic year. Knorr was confirmed with no discussion by the Senate on April 22 and took his oath of office April 29. Next year’s associate justices, Jack Randall and Kristell Mares De Juan, were also confirmed at the meeting.
The application involved both a written and interview component. Outgoing Chief Justice Sam Johnston (‘21) said Knorr showed “depth and thought” in both components: “We only scheduled 20 minutes for interviews this year, we were getting a lot of bland and short answers, so we wondered if our questions were poorly worded. And then when we interviewed Knorr, we realized that wasn’t it… his answers reflected a knowledge of the position and how to do well in the position, and demonstrated a level of commitment.” The other application was turned in a minute before the deadline and, to Johnston, seemed rushed.
Johnston missed the April 22 meeting at which Knorr was confirmed but did provide a statement to be read at the meeting, outlining the process and rationale behind the nomination. The Chief Justice application was open from March 31 to April 16, but only received two applications. Johnston did not ask either candidate to apply and did not do any social media outreach: instead, he advertised the position over email listservs and encouraged senators to apply during regular ASWU meetings.
Knorr said his role as president of College Republicans will not impact his ability to serve as an impartial and fair Chief Justice, but has beneficially informed his perspective: “As a student leader of a political organization, I have learned that people of all political inclinations often desire the same things and want to make Willamette a better place. I view fostering dialogue and bipartisanship, including between College Republicans and College Democrats, as one of my priorities.”
“I hope to encourage other student leaders to work with one another constructively as well,” he continued. “Different experiences, backgrounds and beliefs enrich our campus, and it is important for everyone to feel heard and valued.”
Knorr is also involved in a number of other activities on campus: he is a member of the Chamber Choir, the Debate Union and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and also works at the Hatfield Library.
Knorr’s primary goal as Chief Justice is to “help maintain and promote equity, inclusivity, and critical thinking in our student government.” He aims to reinforce and uphold the [ASWU restructuring] changes already enacted, and “develop further improvements as necessary in the same spirit.” According to Knorr, the role of the judicial branch is to “hold elected student officials accountable” and serve as a resource on “procedural and constitutional issues,” as well as mediate disputes in order to ensure ASWU is “functional and fair.”
The difference between Chief Justice and Associate Justice lies in the Chief Justice’s extra external and communication duties: they are responsible for scheduling meetings, coordinating the judicial branch’s work, representing the branch at ASWU meetings and keeping the associate justices in the loop. When it comes to decision making, however, the justices hold equal power. Johnston said that a Chief Justice needs to have prior experience with and deeply understand Senate rules and procedures in order to be able to explain them easily to senators. Another duty of the position is to serve as a mediator: “being able to speak in a way with people that makes them feel comfortable and heard, being able to set up spaces for everyone to share thoughts.” The third major duty, Johnston said, is to assist and guide senators and officers with their work as needed.
Knorr agreed that knowledge on ASWU bylaws and procedures was important for the position and that clear communication with senators was necessary. Prior experience on the judicial branch is a “particularly useful quality for Chief Justice,” he said. Knorr previously served as an ASWU associate justice during the 2019-2020 school year. A commitment to promoting fairness and equity is also important, he added, as well as the ability to approach situations impartially.
Knorr and Johnston met this past weekend to begin the transition process, which Johnston said involved both transition notes and a live conversation about the position. Johnston believes that the transition will be smooth, particularly since Knorr has been a justice before. Johnston said that he would advise Knorr to change the position’s approach of explaining rules and procedures to senators: “A big problem we’ve had this year is senators don’t know what the rules are, which interrupts the workflow. I’d recommend that at the beginning of the year, Knorr should workshop and develop a working rules system from the start, giving the senators more involvement and agency on what they want their meetings to look like.”
ASWU’s last meeting of the semester was on April 29; Knorr’s work will begin in the fall.