CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Robin Davis, who resigned angrily and suddenly as a Supreme Court justice after being impeached by the House of Delegates, today filed a federal lawsuit contending her constitutional rights to free expression and due process are being violated.
Her lawyers also contend “The Articles of Impeachment as filed are unsupported, invalid and do not warrant impeachment.”
Davis wants the articles to be vacated and for an injunction to bar any impeachment trial proceedings.
Davis names Gov. Jim Justice, who called for a special session to address impeachment, along with delegates who voted for her impeachment as well as senators who voted to move ahead with an impeachment trial despite her resignation.
She alleges the governor and the legislative majority have engaged in a power grab to remake the West Virginia Supreme Court.
“This nakedly partisan move was an attempt to penalize Justice Davis (along with her colleagues) for her political beliefs and expression, as well as the opinions she has authored while on the court,” her lawyers wrote.
Gender bias is also a factor in the lawsuit. Davis alleges the impeachment process has violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Justice Davis, as a woman, is a member of class that has traditionally lacked substantial power,” the lawsuit states.
She alleges elements of sexism, noting that a majority of the court had been women — herself, Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Beth Walker.
“The Governor, House Defendants, and Senate defendants would not have convened the Legislature in extraordinary session or pursued impeachment proceedings against Justice Davis had she not been a woman,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit notes that the only man who was impeached, suspended Justice Allen Loughry, faces two dozen federal charges while the female justices face none.
“Moreover, by entering the Articles of Impeachment against all four remaining Justices on the Court, the male-dominated House of Delegates sought to remove all of the female Justices on the Court — so that a male governor could replace them. And, indeed, Governor Justice’s first two appointments have been men.”
The 40-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston.
The lawsuit was filed by local counsel from Kay Casto & Chaney, as well as James Cole, former deputy attorney general of the United States, and additional attorneys of Sidley Austin on K Street in Washington, D.C.
Davis announced her retirement August 14, the day after West Virginia’s House of Delegates passed 11 articles of impeachment naming the remaining members of the Supreme Court.
At the time, she blasted the impeachment process and said her retirement is the only way voters could have a say on who fills the seat.
“What we are witnessing is a disaster for the rule of law, the foundation of our state, and indeed, our very society,” Davis stated.
“For when a legislative body attempts to dismantle a separate branch of government, the immediate effects, as well as the precedent it sets for the future, can only be termed disastrous.”
Earlier this month, during a pretrial hearing in the Senate, a majority of senators voted down a motion that would have dismissed Davis from impeachment trial. The motion was rejected on a 15-19 vote. The vote was not along party lines.
Davis has already removed herself from office, but continuing with an impeachment trial could prevent her from running for public office again and, possibly, from collecting her state pension.
“There are thus strong property and liberty interests at risk when a West Virginia Supreme Court justice is tried in the Senate for an allegedly impeachable offense,” the lawsuit by Davis states.
Her federal lawsuit contends that a Senate trial under the current rules is inadequate to protect her interests.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the validity of the stated reasons for her impeachment, as well as the process.
“In sum, the Articles of Impeachment returned against Justice Davis reflect no factually or legally sufficient grounds for impeachment,” her lawyers wrote.
Her lawyers contend the decision to impeach all four remaining members of the court — minus Justice Menis Ketchum who had already resigned — is evidence in itself.
“The Articles of Impeachment do not allege any conspiracy among all of the Justices to engage in any impeachable offense — far from it,” Davis contends in her lawsuit.
“The decision of the House of Delegates to wipe out the entire remaining Supreme Court of Appeals makes clear that the impeachment process was not an effort to uncover misfeasance, but instead a power grab designed to remove Justices with whom the Delegates disagreed and to remake the Court in the Delegates’ and the Governor’s desired image.”
The lawsuit notes that Governor Justice appointed House Speaker Tim Armstead and Congressman Evan Jenkins, both Republicans, to the seats vacated by Ketchum and Davis.
During that Aug. 25 announcement, Justice specified his desire for the selections to form a “conservative court.”
“We need true conservatives — this is really important — with honor and integrity to restore the trust from the blow to the stomach we’ve suffered in the last few months,” said Justice, who announced appointments and then departed.