CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Judiciary Committee began contemplating on Monday a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit any state court from interfering in any future impeachment proceedings.
The committee took up a revised version of SJR 5, which if passed would put the proposed amendment before the voters.
As explained by committee counsel, the amendment would clarify in the state Constitution that no court may interfere with active preachment proceedings in the House or impeachment trial proceedings in the Senate. The matter would not be subject to court review until after the process was completed.
The resolution also proposes to remove one of the grounds for impeachment from the list. The list now reads: “maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor.” Counsel said that the word maladministration is “amorphous” – a word that got tossed around several times during the conversation – and lacks definition.
Counsel told members that most states don’t include it in their lists. And when the Founders were shaping the U.S. Constitution, James Madison persuaded his colleagues from including it as a ground for impeachment because it’s too vague.
The heart of the amendment focuses on the impeachment section of the state Constitution, which says, “The House of Delegates shall have the sole power of impeachment. The Senate shall have the sole power to try impeachments. …”
As previously reported by MetroNews, in October, the acting state Supreme 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.
Just before the start of this legislative session, the House of Delegates filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the acting court’s decision.
As reported by MetroNews, the 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.”
The resolution also proposes to change the potential consequences for conviction. The Constitution now says, “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit, under the state.”
The amendment, if passed, would make removal from office and disqualification for future office two separate punishments required separate votes in the Senate.
The committee paused its deliberations after Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, proposed keeping the word maladministration in the list. He said the focus of the amendment is more on the process than the grounds.
Members agreed that maladministration is vague, but a couple mentioned that the term could apply to lower state officers who serve as administrators, since the Constitution reads “Any officer of the state may be impeached for maladministration. …”
The meeting time was drawing to a close with no progress on the matter, so chair Charles Trump, R-Mercer, decided to pause and pick up the issue at a later meeting, and perhaps send it to a subcommittee.