The West Virginia Legislature is considering a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would clarify its sole authority to handle impeachment cases.
House Joint Resolution Two states: “No court of this state has any authority or jurisdiction, by writ or otherwise, to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate.”
The resolution requires approval from two-thirds of the members of both the House and Senate before it can be put to the voters.
The proposal has its roots in the excessive spending and maladministration by the West Virginia Supreme Court. The controversy erupted in 2017 with reports of lavish spending on Supreme Court office furnishings. Remember the $32,000 couch?
The excessive spending and subsequent revelations of fiscal malfeasance led to the resignation of one justice, the retirement of another, the criminal conviction of a third and the House of Delegates’ impeachment of four justices.
One of those impeached justices, Margaret Workman, challenged the proceedings in the West Virginia Supreme Court, charging she was denied due process. Temporarily appointed justices ruled in her favor, which stopped her trial in the Senate.
House and Senate leaders appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to take up the case.
At the time, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said, “We still firmly believe last year’s (2018) 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 for years to come.”
And that brings us to today, and the legislative effort to include a provision in the state Constitution that states unequivocally that the courts have no role in impeachment.
Article 4, Section 9 reads, “The House of Delegates shall have sole power of impeachment. The Senate shall have sole power to try impeachment.” The only role for the judiciary is that the Chief Justice, or a judge appointed by that court, presides over the trial, but that has been thrown into doubt by the decision in the Workman case.
Impeachment is not a criminal or civil matter, it is not a judicial matter, it is a responsibility assigned to the legislature to be carried out by elected members of the House of Delegates and the State Senate.
To suggest that the actions or decisions of impeachment can be appealed to the judiciary upsets the balance of power established in the state Constitution. That would appear obvious based on the current language in the state Constitution.
However, given the ruling in the Workman case, it is necessary to add even more specific language to the document.