CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision over West Virginia’s own Supreme Court battles from the past year.
Outside counsel working for the House of Delegates, Mark Carter, filed the petition on Tuesday.
The House of Delegates isn’t necessarily trying to return to impeaching the West Virginia justices.
But it is asking for oversight of the conclusions reached by an acting version of the West Virginia Supreme Court.
“Our action today is not an effort to resume the impeachment proceedings against any individual, but rather an effort to restore the proper legal and Constitutional authority granted to the Legislature with regard to impeachment proceedings,” stated House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.
“Should a future Legislature need to begin impeachment proceedings against an elected official who has betrayed the public trust, we need to make sure it is able to act and not have its hands tied by this defective decision.”
The state Constitution gives the Legislature the sole power of impeachment, but a ruling last fall by the acting version of the West Virginia Supreme Court blocked the impeachment trials of the state’s remaining justices.
The new filing claims the West Virginia Supreme Court violated the U.S. Constitution “as it elevates itself to a supreme branch of government with the authority to review the impeachment proceedings of the state Senate and the House of Delegates and restricts the rights of both chambers thereby eviscerating the checks and balances of state government and the separation of powers doctrine.
“This decision thereby denies the state a Republican form of government as guaranteed by the United States constitution.”
In October, the acting court halted the impeachment process in West Virginia by concluding that legislators had overstepped their constitutional authority. Acting justices concluded lawmakers had based impeachment on areas the state Constitution set aside as the responsibility of the judicial branch.
That stopped the impeachment trials for justices Margaret Workman, Robin Davis and Allen Loughry. Davis had already retired from the court, and Loughry has been found guilty of 11 federal counts. Workman continues to serve on the court.
The House of Delegates impeached the entire West Virginia Supreme Court last summer on a variety of matters, including spending on office renovations, the use of state vehicles for private travel, approving pay for some senior status judges above the legal limit and failure to hold each other accountable.
Workman, who was chief justice at the time, filed a lawsuit challenging her Senate impeachment trial. She and the other remaining justices recused themselves, leaving an acting Supreme Court of circuit judges to decide the matter.
Although the ruling by the acting version of the West Virginia Supreme Court applied to the impeachment trials in the Senate, an aspect of the decision concluded the House of Delegates violated their own impeachment rules.
The House of Delegates was not a party, though, and a later request by the House to intervene was blocked.
An aspect of the filing with the U.S. Supreme Court asks whether the House was improperly denied its motion to intervene.
Right after impeachment trials were blocked, House Speaker Hanshaw indicated delegates would fight.
“There is no chance this opinion stands,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said then.
The request with the U.S. Supreme Court focuses specifically on the Workman case since she filed the original lawsuit to block impeachment.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to read the petition, but it is certainly their right to seek review from the Supreme Court,” stated Marc Williams, the lead lawyer representing Workman.
“Considering that the Court accepts less than 3 percent of petitions filed, and that the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals addressed issues of state constitutional law, it is very, very unlikely that this petition will be accepted for review.”
The state Attorney General has made a separate filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking for additional time to file an appeal on behalf of the state Senate.
That document doesn’t specify grounds for appeal.
The only statement the Attorney General’s Office has made is to confirm the filing.
“The Attorney General’s Office is representing the state Senate as it considers potential next steps in this matter,” stated Curtis Johnson, a spokesman for the office.