It’s a terrible opinion in so many ways.
The court finds in the plain text of the impeachment provision of the state constitution that there is no right of direct appeal from the final decision of an impeachment tribunal. The inclusion of the term “according to law and evidence,” however, was found to have created an implied right of collateral appeal rendering the proceedings fully reviewable, because under WV law, every wrong has a judicial remedy. The court then acknowledged that in a recent opinion, it had held that not every wrong has a judicial remedy, but it said that that other case involved matters fully committed to the legislature. To sum up, not every harm is justiciable, but impeachment is justiciable because someone is harmed.
They then struggle to find a vehicle for their review and settle upon the writ of prohibition, because the impeachment proceeding is quasi-judicial. Then, after finding that the state constitution assigned a quasi-judicial function to the legislature, and then finding an implied power of judicial review of that function, the court issues a ringing statement that WV law construes the separation of powers especially strictly.
The court then finds that the state constitution gives it the sole power to set rules for the conduct of litigation. This actually seems like a reasonable reading of the constitution (even though it arguably gives the court the power to order trial by ordeal if it wishes). It jumps from there, though, to a holding that this power extends to full budgetary authority, allowing the chief justice to set senior judges’ salaries without constraint (indeed, the chief justice presumably could order that new courthouses be built).
Someone then remembered that a different provision of the state constitution expressly says that judges’ salaries shall be limited by law, so the court had to “summarily” dismiss that provision. It noted that that provision went on to say that judicial salaries cannot be diminished during the judge’s term of office, so it found that that somehow implied that such salaries were only bound by law during the term of office too – a tortured reading at best. From there, they decided that senior status judges don’t hold offices (a completely indefensible finding, given the role the senior judge plays), so their salaries aren’t constrained by law. Note that this also means that the no-diminishment rule also doesn’t apply to senior judges, so if the chief justice doesn’t like the way a senior judge is handling a particular case, she can cut his pay.
There’s no way for the legislature permissibly to replead the overpayment charges in new articles of impeachment, so that part of the dispute is over.
Then the court holds that it has the exclusive authority to set administrative rules for the judiciary, and exclusive authority to enforce those rules, so it effectively reads the “maladministration” element of the legislature’s impeachment power out of the constitution. In theory, this could be defensible on the basis that the amendment to the judiciary portion of the constitution in the 1970s was intended to do that, but the court doesn’t even attempt to make that case, which kind of suggests that there isn’t any such evidence. Instead, it doesn’t even acknowledge the conflict. There’s no way to replead these charges either.
The tenor of the opinion is dismaying, too, using bombast and pomposity to cover the big legal leaps the court is taking. It also chastises the legislature for its tone in invoking “a constitutional crisis,” but then goes on to sugest that if the legislature doesn’t follow the rules, “we will destroy ourselves.”
All of that said, it sounds like the legislature picked a huge fight over piddly problems, handled its own proceedings haphazardly, and litigated its case quite stupidly. I wouldn’t have voted to impeach or to convict. That doesn’t make the court’s ruling any less of a mess, but it’s fair to say that the legislature invited this upon itself needlessly.