CHARLESTON – The state Senate wants the U.S. Supreme Court to review a state Supreme Court ruling that ended last fall’s impeachment proceedings.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a petition March 11 with the U.S. Supreme Court. The House of Delegates filed a similar request in January.
Like the earlier House petition, the Senate questions the process by which five state court judges acting as the state Supreme Court stopped the impeachment of the then-current state Supreme Court justices. It says that decision goes against the separation of powers doctrine provided by the U.S. Constitution. The Senate petition doesn’t address the actual impeachment of any of the justices, rather it focuses on how the state Supreme Court violated the Legislature’s impeachment powers.
“Far from merely policing the boundaries of the impeachment process, the court below decided for itself the merits of some of the Articles of Impeachment, then declared that the Legislature can never use conduct regulated by West Virginia’s Code of Judicial Conduct as grounds for impeachment,” the petition states. “This decision renders impeachment’s promise of accountability hollow by setting the judiciary up as its own judge, and impermissibly upsets the balance of powers between what should and must be co-equal branches.”
The Senate wants the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the Legislature’s role of impeachment by tossing out the state Supreme Court’s October ruling.
“(The U.S. Supreme Court) should intervene to resolve the narrow, but critically important, question whether the acting justices’ decision undermines the republican form of government that the federal Constitution guarantees to every State,” the petition states.
The House impeached the entire state Supreme Court last summer for various issues such as excessive spending on office renovations, personal use of state vehicles and pay issues for some senior status judges.
During the impeachment trial process before the state Senate, the acting state Supreme Court issued a ruling on a petition filed by then-Chief Justice Margaret Workman that ended the impeachment trials after the one for current Chief Justice Beth Walker.
The acting state Supreme Court ruling said lawmakers had overstepped their authority, saying the impeachment was based on parts of the state Constitution that only the judicial branch can handle.
Marc Williams, an attorney with Nelson Mullins in Huntington, represented Workman in the case before the state Supreme Court that led to the end of the impeachment trials.
"We are disappointed that the West Virginia Legislature continues to press the impeachment issue with this appeal," Williams told The West Virginia Record. "It is very, very unlikely that the Supreme Court of the United States will review a case from West Virginia’s highest court deciding state constitutional issues.
"We will continue to defend the independence of the judiciary to decide these issues. We look forward to finally bringing this unfortunate episode to a conclusion."