Dave Mistich Published

Citing Halting Of 2018 Trials, W.Va. House Votes To Amend State Constitution And Keep Courts Out Of Impeachment Process

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The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates has given its stamp of approval on a proposed constitutional amendment that would keep the Supreme Court and other tribunals from intervening in any impeachment proceedings.

House Joint Resolution 2 stems from the halting of impeachment trials in the West Virginia Senate in the fall of 2018.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, joint resolutions need a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate before going to a vote of the general public.

If adopted and ratified, House Joint Resolution 2 would strengthen some language in the West Virginia Constitution to clarify the Legislature’s role and add the following line:

“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 conducted hereunder; nor is any judgment rendered by the Senate following a trial of impeachment reviewable by any court of this state.”

In 2018, after a lengthy investigation in the House of Delegates that led to the impeachment of the entire bench of the state Supreme Court over lavish spending of state funds and using public resources for private gain, justices on the state’s high court were set to stand trial.

First was Justice Beth Walker, who was ultimately acquitted and censured by the upper chamber.

But when then-Justice Margaret Workman challenged her own impeachment in the case of Workman v. Carmichael, an ad hoc bench of the Supreme Court ruled the entire process was flawed, thus throwing out Workman’s trial and the remaining others.

House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, referenced that ruling in a floor speech Tuesday while speaking in favor of House Joint Resolution 2.

“It really pushed the limits of separation of powers in West Virginia, the very foundational concept of this republic — the separation of powers,” Capito said. “That substitute court issued an opinion that rendered our findings in this body moot.”

Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, spoke against the resolution and attempted to put the ad hoc bench’s decision into context.

“I think it’s very important that we understand that the court did not take over our impeachment process,” Rowe said. “The Supreme Court said ‘If you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it right.’”

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, also spoke against House Joint Resolution 2, arguing that it could unintentionally tip the balance of power between the separate but equal branches of government.

“We all know that power should have a check and a balance. That’s our system. We’re taking away that we’re saying that we are superior, that we are infallible and we don’t screw up,” Fluharty said. “Well, the evidence is that we have before recently — and we were so offended by it, we’ve got to come in here and change the constitution.”

House Government Organization Chair Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said the decision handed down in the Workman v. Carmichael case was a “travesty” that was “self-serving” to promote and prolong the justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court.

“It’s important to remember some of the powers designated to this body that are not designated to any other body. The only body that has the ability to impeach anybody — to impeach any government official — is this house. This house is where it all begins,” Steele said. “How can another body have dictatorial control over the rules in which this body arrives at that conclusion?”

Delegates ultimately voted 78-21 to adopt House Joint Resolution 2, which was mostly along party lines. Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, and Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, broke with their party and joined Republicans in voting for the resolution.

House Joint Resolution 2 now heads to the Senate.

If approved by a two-thirds majority in the upper chamber, the proposed amendment to the state constitution would head to a vote of the general public in November 2024, where a simple majority would be needed to enact the change.