Among the many questions swirling amid the ongoing impeachment proceedings of current and former State Supreme Court Justices is whether it is necessary to put Robin Davis on trial in the Senate.
Davis, who is named in four of the eleven articles of impeachment, announced her retirement last month and immediately left the bench. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charlie Trump (R-Morgan) argued Tuesday that a trial is not needed because she is already off the court.
“Under the circumstances, the question is rendered largely moot,” Trump said in making a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment against the former Justice. Trump cited Article IV, Section Nine of the West Virginia Constitution which reads that impeachment is the remedy for removing “any officer of the state” and Davis is no longer an officer.
However, that section of the Constitution also says that “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not exceed further than to remove from office, and disqualification to hold any office [emphasis added] of honor, trust or profit under the state.”
Under that provision Davis could conceivably run for, and be elected to, a public office again or be considered as a senior status judge to fill in for open positions around the state if she is not convicted by the Senate. In 1989, the House of Delegates impeached Treasurer A. James Manchin after the state investment fund lost $279 million dollars. He resigned before his impeachment trial, but a decade later was elected to the House from Marion County and served until his death in 2003.
The Senate rejected Trump’s motion 15-19, meaning the Senate plans to proceed with putting Davis on trial. The breakdown of that vote is worth noting.
It was not a party line vote. The votes to dismiss the charges were split evenly—eight Democrats and seven Republicans supported the motion. On the other side, 15 Republicans and four Democrats voted against the motion, meaning they want to proceed with the trial of Davis.
Some Statehouse observers believe the upcoming November election figured into the vote. Eight incumbent Senators running for re-election and one Senator running for Congress voted to put Davis on trial. The Supreme Court spending has sparked significant public outrage and candidates on the campaign trail don’t want to be accused of being soft on the big-spending Justices.
Davis exited the state Supreme Court amid the spending scandal last month with a verbal door slam. She said of the impeachment proceedings, “What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed, our very society.”
Her chutzpah likely does not sit well with West Virginians who are outraged by the Justices excess and who have lost confidence in the court or many Senators who hold her fate in their hands. However, as Trump argued, judgment in impeachment is whether a public official should be removed from office.
Davis has done that on her own. The issue before the Senate is whether it is worth a trial to try to ensure that she can never again be a judge or hold any other office of public trust.