Senate joins House in petitioning U.S. court on impeachment

CHARLESTON — Adding another wrinkle to the long-running impeachment scandal involving justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the state Senate is joining the House of Delegates in seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the Legislature’s impeachment authority.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, acting on behalf of the Senate, filed a petition Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices to review a state Supreme Court decision that put a halt to the impeachment trials for Justice Margaret Workman and former justices Allen Loughry and Robin Davis.

“In a decision that brought pending state impeachment proceedings to a halt, a panel of acting justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia inserted itself into both the substance and procedure of a process that the West Virginia Constitution entrusts exclusively to the Legislative Branch,” according to the petition.

Workman filed a petition with the state Supreme Court in September calling for the impeachment trial process in the Senate to stop, arguing that the House of Delegates violated the separation of powers between the branches and violated the rules set in place by the House governing the impeachment process. Workman, current Chief Justice Beth Walker, and former justices Loughry and Davis were impeached by the House in August on 11 articles.

With the entire state Supreme Court recusing itself, five circuit court judges were appointed to rule on the Workman petition. Three of the acting justices ruled in Workman’s favor in October. The decision stopped Workman’s impeachment trial and the impeachment trials for Loughry and Davis. Walker’s trial had already occurred, with the Senate acquitting her in October and adopting a censure resolution.

Loughry resigned in November after being convicted of 11 federal charges related to personal use of state property, lying to investigators, and witness tampering. He was sentenced last month to two years in a federal prison. Davis resigned shortly after the House impeachment vote but had filed her own suit in federal court to halt the Senate’s impeachment trial. She dropped that suit after the Workman decision came out.

“In bypassing the West Virginia Constitution’s explicit grant of the ‘sole’ power of impeachment to the legislature … the court flagrantly invaded the province of a co-equal branch of government and largely insulated the judiciary — in this and future cases — from the essential check that impeachment provides in a republican system,” the petition goes on to say.

“The Senate takes no position on whether Respondent should be removed from office, nor does it ask the Court to correct most of the procedural and legal errors in the decision below — which are legion … Rather, this Court should intervene to resolve the narrow, but critically important, question whether the acting justices’ decision undermines the republican form of government that the federal Constitution guarantees to every State.”

The House passed a similar petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in January shortly before the start of the 2019 legislative session.

“Our action today is not an effort to resume the impeachment proceedings against any individual, but rather an effort to restore the proper legal and Constitutional authority granted to the Legislature with regard to impeachment proceedings,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said in a statement in January.

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