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Amendment 1 relates to the checks and balances of the legislative and judicial branches of state government. It’s meant to clarify that the judicial branch has no authority to interfere with the West Virginia House and Senate constitutionally granted impeachment powers.
The impetus arose in 2018 after the legislature impeached the entire Supreme Court over numerous financial issues. Marc Williams was the lead attorney for Justice Margaret Workman, who filed suit by questioning legislative procedures, and raising a separation-of-powers issue.
With the suit under consideration, West Virginia’s Supreme Court Justices recused themselves from the proceedings. Circuit judge’s filling in as a Supreme Court ruled in Workman’s favor.
Williams said the amendment is bad and vindictive.
“They’re trying to amend our state constitution to say that – no matter the circumstances. If an impeachment takes place, a court cannot intervene, even if there was a basis for the impeachment which is clearly discriminatory or illegal,” Williams said. “The legislature is angry that the courts intervened and said that their attempt to impeach all five justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals violated our constitution and violated the due process of the justices.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the 2018 fill-in Supreme Court panel overstepped its authority. He said the amendment is needed to make it explicit that the constitution clearly assigns impeachment power to the legislature and no one else.
“Article four, Section nine; The House of Delegates shall have the sole power of impeachment. The Senate shall have the sole power to try impeachments,” Trump said. “The substitute paneled Supreme Court usurped authority that is specifically delegated and conferred upon the legislative branch and disregarded the checks and balances that already exist in the Constitution.”
Williams said the legislature, not liking the results in 2018, wants the amendment to help take away any powers of judicial impeachment review. He cited examples of a possible legislative decision on impeachment proceedings for someone who is African-American or a practicing Muslim.
“Say it was because they believe that we are a Christian nation, and a Muslim should not serve in office. That impeachment could go forward,” Williams said. “There would be no state court that could intervene to stop it, even though it is clearly discriminatory and clearly unconstitutional.”
Trump said impeachment checks and balances for such individuals currently exist through the state constitution, and Amendment 1 offers the legal protections needed.
“It’s never happened before in any state or at the federal level, where the judicial branch of the government decided that it could regulate the manner in which the legislative branch conducts impeachment proceedings,” Trump said. “It’s particularly egregious and frightening because the judicial branch did it to interfere with impeachment of members of the judiciary”
Williams said when you tell a court that they cannot intervene, regardless of the circumstances, that’s what creates a problem.
Voters will decide on changing the constitution – or not – regarding legislative impeachment powers on Nov. 8.