CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a case involving the impeachment of West Virginia’s Supreme Court.
Justices gathered behind closed doors last Tuesday and decided which cases to hear for the term that started today. One of the cases that was under consideration was a review the impeachment that was halted last year in West Virginia.
Today the Supreme Court released a list of orders. The West Virginia case was listed under “certiorari denied,” which means justices had decided not to review the case.
Appeals had been filed on behalf of the state House of Delegates and the state Senate. Leaders in those bodies said they did not necessarily want to continue with impeachment trials of West Virginia Supreme Court justices but, instead, wanted guidance from a higher authority about how impeachment should have unfolded properly.
“This appeal was about restoring the proper balance and separation of powers between our state’s three branches of government — a balance that we feel was irreparably harmed by last year’s state Supreme Court decision,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw stated.
“We still firmly believe last year’s decision was deeply flawed, went far beyond the scope of what the Court was asked to consider, and establishes a precedent that could have significant unintended effects on the legislative branch in the years to come.”
The state justices were impeached on a range of charges, including lavish 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.
The majorities in the legislative chambers contended the judiciary’s halting of impeachment put a chill on governmental checks and balances.
The state Constitution gives the Legislature the sole power of impeachment, but a ruling last fall by an acting version of the West Virginia Supreme Court blocked the impeachment trials of most of West Virginia’s justices.
Last year, the House of Delegates majority impeached four of West Virginia’s Supreme Court justices, not including then-Justice Menis Ketchum who resigned the day before the impeachment process began. Ketchum pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge.
Only one justice went through trial in the state Senate, Justice Beth Walker, who was censured and remained on the court.
A lawsuit by Justice Margaret Workman successfully halted the remaining proceedings. Workman also remains on the court.
Justice Robin Davis resigned, saying the process was unfair. And Justice Allen Loughry was convicted in federal court on fraud charges, later resigning his office and now serving time in prison.
Workman’s lawsuit contended legislators had overstepped their constitutional authority. Her case went to the state Supreme Court, where a panel of temporary justices decided the matter because the usual state Supreme Court had recused.
“I am gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld my position by refusing to hear the appeal of the dismissal of the impeachment articles filed against me,” Workman stated today.
“With this order from the nation’s highest Court, we can finally rest knowing that the impeachment proceeding that consumed so much time and energy last year is over.”
Her lawyer, Marc Williams, also said the Supreme Court’s order should bring West Virginia’s impeachment saga to an end.
“There is a significant lesson for everyone who has been impacted by this process,” Williams stated. “Impeachment is a mechanism that should be exercised with great restraint and, if necessary, in a way that guarantees Due Process to those involved.”
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael expressed disappointment, but referred to the long odds against the U.S. justices taking up any particular case.
“Though we will not get our day before the nation’s highest court, we will continue to look for ways to right the wrong we believe the appointed state Supreme Court committed during the impeachment process,” Carmichael stated.