WV Supreme Court rules that Legislature has exceeded its power to impeach

This is a serious constitutional crisis for the State of West Virginia. I know all of these judges and I cannot help but hang my head.

Didn’t we learn in civics class that the Legislature has an absolute and unreviewable power of impeachment? If the Legislature can get a majority of the House and 2/3ds of the Senate to impeach and remove respectively a Justice for being too mean, or too fat, or just because we feel like it, is that decision not always been unreviewable?

The fact that the Supreme Court has taken this power from the Legislature means that there is no check at all on the Supreme Court because the Court itself may order a stop to any impeachment trial.

The imperial judiciary lives, and I could not be more respectfully disappointed by the three temporary justices in the majority.

Yes, legislatures have the absolute right to impeach. But the argument that won is that they did not follow the proper procedure for doing so, meaning that they never actually impeached anyone. The remedy, as stated, would be for them to actually get back together and follow the procedure properly.

It is not the court usurping its power. It is requiring the constitution of the state to be followed. As I’ve said repeatedly, that has been the Court’s power ever since the establishment of judicial review.

The other direction would actually empower an imperial legislature, because they would not have to follow the constitution to accomplish their goals. This is a constitutional democracy: either follow the constitution, or amend it.

If the Legislature says they got a majority of the House and 2/3ds of the Senate, but in actuality one of those senators was sick that day and never ended up voting, leaving them just shy of 2/3ds, does the Supreme Court just have to accept that result as unreviewable just because the legislature declared it so, or is it their responsibility to say “Sorry guys, you need to do this over again, per the Constitution this time.”

I see that as a similar analogy as to what happened here.

That’s not what the Court said:


It’s a long read, but the main point is that excessive spending, paying senior status judges too much, and failing to maintain policies and procedures are rules that are left to the Judicial branch of government, and as such, cannot be properly the subject of impeachment by the Legislature.

So, even by that logic, the Legislature should then be able to devise whatever procedures it chooses for impeachment as those are the province of the Legislative branch.

But on a fundamental level, this allows judges to stop any impeachment of a judge simply by ruling that it cannot proceed. There is therefore no check on the judiciary. In these threads, we have argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has too much power, but the rejoinder is always that Congress may impeach them if they go too far. This ruling says that the Court can stop that impeachment! Where is the check?

It is not at all similar. I agree that courts have held an extremely limited power of judicial review of impeachment solely for things like that. Say, the House never impeached, but the Senate voted 2/3ds so it declared the official removed from office. Such extreme deviations from the norm should be subject to some review, but such extreme deviations would necessarily cause a constitutional crisis. This decision unnecessarily causes one.

What’s the backstory here? Why is the WV legislature trying to impeach the WV Chief Justice?


I think there’s a longer thread too.

I see the link was posted, but here is a summary version:

Last fall, an investigation was launched into corruption and excessive spending at the Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court has five members. At the time, the Justices were: Chief Justice Loughry; Associate Justices Workman, Walker, Ketchum and Davis.

After the investigation, the evidence showed that Loughry was the main culprit, doing all sort of things. He is currently on trial in the federal system and the jury just finished deliberating for the day without a verdict.

Further, Justice Ketchum chose to resign and he pled guilty to a federal felony, sentencing pending.

The WV House of Delegates looked at the evidence and impeached Loughry, Davis, Walker, and Workman for their part in excessive spending. Davis, Walker, and Workman were cleared of any legal violation and are not criminally charged.

The day after the impeachment, Davis resigned while maintaining her innocence.

Walker had her Senate trial earlier this month and was acquitted 32-1, but was subsequently censured. The Senate deemed her conduct blameworthy, but not enough for removal from office.

Workman’s trial is/was scheduled for Monday, Davis’ trial later in the month, and Loughry’s next month. Workman filed the instant suit to stop the Senate from proceeding for the reasons stated in the article and in the opinion.

Now, it seems that the five temporary justices on the Court have ordered the Senate to stop the impeachment trial even though that body has the “sole power” to try impeachments. The imperial judiciary lives.

Thanks Ruken and UltraVires for getting me up-to-speed.

Linked to in that thread but here’s that link as well:

I’m not from WV, but here are a few questions regarding this situation and how it might be resolved.

  1. Since this was a ruling by the WV Supreme Court, couldn’t the WB appeal their decision to the SCOTUS?

  2. Alternatively, can’t they impeach and remove the temporary justices and appoint new ones, with better vetting on how they will rule on this matter?

  3. Hold said justices in contempt of congress and have the state police remove the justices in question by force?

I certainly learned no such thing in my civics class. I may have learned that this principle applies to the federal government, since the Constitution of the US doesn’t qualify the process. But certainly West Virginia is within its rights to establish otherwise.

Oh, I forgot, states’ rights to be different only apply when they are working in your favor. Silly of me. :rolleyes:

How is the judiciary being “imperial” here? Here is what the judiciary said:

The people gave us the sole right to punish “bad” judges (see Article VIII, § 8). You said this person is a “bad” judge. You then tried to punish her for being a “bad” judge (she broke the law). You can’t do that; that’s our job.

Now, if the judiciary said something like: hey, the Supreme Court’s justices are insulated from your actions because there’s an inherent immunity to such actions, THAT would be “imperial” as it were. But, of course, they did not.

The way to correct this, of course, is to amend the state constitution to make clear that, when a judge is “bad” because of violation of the rules set down by the Court, the Court gets to deal with that if it wants, but this does not limit the ability to remove a judge/justice via impeachment proceedings in the Legislature. Problem solved.

Quoting instead from your article:

“Our forefathers in establishing this Country, as well as the leaders who established the framework for our State, had the forethought to put a procedure in place to address issues that could arise in the future; in the ensuing years that system has served us well,” Matish wrote for the majority.

“What our forefathers did not envision is the fact that subsequent leaders would not have the ability or willingness to read, understand, or to follow those guidelines,” the opinion states. “The problem we have today is that people do not bother to read the rules, or if they read them, they decide the rules do not apply to them.”

Matish acknowledged that the governor could call a special session of the Legislature, that the House of Delegates has the right to adopt a resolution and articles of a bill of impeachment, and that the Senate conducts trials of impeachment and can make its own rules, and that a member of the Supreme Court must preside over those trials.

“This Court should not intervene with any of those proceedings because of the separation of powers doctrine, and no one branch may usurp the power of any other co-equal branch of government,” Matish wrote. “However, when our constitutional process is violated, this Court must act when called upon.”

The opinion goes on to say that “fundamental fairness requires this Court to review what has happened in this state over the last several months when all of the procedural safeguards that are built into this system have not been followed. In this case, there has been a rush to judgment to get to a certain point without following all of the necessary rules. This case is not about whether or not a Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia can or should be impeached; but rather it is about the fact that to do so, it must be done correctly and constitutionally with due process. We are a nation of laws and not of men, and the rule of law must be followed.”

If that is the construction of the West Virginia Constitution, then it very arguably violates the Guarantee of a Republican form of government clause of the U.S. Constitution. A judiciary absolutely immune from any check, save by their own grace, is not one governed by the people.

Missed the edit window: What happens when the Court stops allowing certain amendments to be placed on the ballot because “procedures” were not followed or because it rules that the amendment violates checks and balances?

It also amazes me how the opinion is chock full of cites of the West Virginia Supreme Court defining the scope of its own power. That, again, is not a republican form of government.

Which is, ironically, the classic non-justiciable question.

Well, so is this one. :slight_smile:

And the constitutional crisis:

And, sorry for the multiple posts, but based upon the evidence I have seen, I would not vote to convict Chief Justice Workman. I would vote to censure her as was done with Justice Walker.

However, this ruling calls into question the authority to convict Loughry. Paddling mileage expenses? Court business. Removing a valuable desk to his home? Court business. Telling other court employees to lie? Court business. Lying to the FBI? That was part of his role as a Justice, so the Court should handle it.

And the reasons are flimsy. Under the Constitution:

  1. The Court can set its own “procedural” rules.
  2. The Legislature can set salaries for judges during their “terms in office.”

The Legislature passed a statute that said senior status judges (those retired judges who fill in occasionally) cannot be paid more than the salary of a full time judge.

This decision had the temerity to hold that paying senior status judges was a procedure rule, and that the Legislature had no power to set those salaries because those judges had no “terms” of office. Therefore, the statute is unconstitutional because it infringed on the judiciary’s role. That’s wordsmithing and legal sophistry at its finest.

BUT, EVEN IF IT IS NOT ILLEGAL, the Legislature can still impeach for maladministration. Under the temporary’s Court’s holding, it would seem that the Chief Justice could pay a senior status judge $5 million for a day’s work and neither the Legislature or Executive could do jack shit about it.

I see no limiting principle in this opinion that does not allow the Court to act as a branch of government above the executive and legislative.

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.