CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Judiciary Committee resumed and completed on Tuesday its work on a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit any state court from interfering in any future impeachment proceedings.
SJR 5 is set to go next to Finance, but Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, found that second reference “inexplicable” and may seek a waiver to send it right to the full Senate.
If approved by two-thirds of both chambers, the amendment that would go before voters in November would clarify in the state Constitution that no court may interfere with active impeachment proceedings in the House or impeachment trial in the Senate. The matter would not be subject to court review until after the process was completed.
The resolution originally also proposed 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.”
It was argued that the word maladministration lacks definition. Only three other states have it in their impeachment provisions: Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. During the U.S. Constitutional Convention, founder James Madison persuaded his colleagues to keep it out.
The committee began work on the resolution on Monday but ran out of time while debating an amendment proposed by Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, to keep the word maladministration in the list.
Resuming on Tuesday, Baldwin admitted, “I so realize this is in some ways a can of worms.”
Members gnawed on Baldwin’s proposal for close to half an hour – reading various dictionary definitions of the word and pondering whether or not to defer to the wisdom of West Virginia’s founders.
After going in circles for a while and pondering whether to also mandate a definition in code if they kept the word in, they scrapped the definition idea and voted 10-5 to keep “maladministration” in the Constitution.
They then approved the resolution in a voice vote. The vote was unanimous, but not quite: No one said no, but not everyone said yes.
So, as it passed, 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. …”
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.
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.
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.