Liberia: Slim Chance for Weah’s Supreme Court Nominee


…. Will Chamber Justice Wolokollie lift the stay order on Cllr. Dean’s confirmation hearing?

There is a degree of uncertainty surrounding the confirmation hearing of President George Weah’s nominee for the Office of Associate Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, as the Senate Judicial Committee appears unlikely to hold the scheduled hearing on January 9, 2024.

The confirmation process was temporarily suspended on January 4 by Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie, the Presiding Chamber Justice of the Supreme Court, who rescheduled it for today.

However, the President’s proclamation for a regular session of the legislature, which includes the confirmation hearing, is set to end today. The likelihood of Minister Dean’s confirmation depends largely on whether Associate Justice Wolokollie’s stay order will be lifted, allowing the Senators to resume their work.

Interestingly, this stay order came after Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh and the majority of her colleagues raised constitutional concerns about the nomination following a petition filed by the Unity Party.

The UP argued that President Weah’s nomination of Cllr. Dean as Associate Justice to replace Justice Nagbe raises questions because of the circumstances and timing. The party claimed that the Constitution did not anticipate the current President, who lost the election, appointing a new Associate Justice during the transitional period.

Furthermore, the incoming ruling party argued that Justice Nagbe’s early retirement request, which President Weah cited as the basis for the new nomination, does not automatically create a vacancy on the Supreme Court Bench.

In response, Cllr. Dean contends that Justice Nagbe’s retirement is not unprecedented, as similar requests have been granted in the past because of health reasons.

“Justice Nagbe properly asked for and was granted early retirement from the Judiciary and the government,” Dean argues. “Justice Nagbe is qualified for retirement both under the pension law and the general retirement pension law of the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation Act of 2016.”

Dean also highlights Article 32(b) of the Constitution, which grants the President the authority to extend the regular session of the legislature or call a special session to address matters of national emergency and concern. President Weah extended the regular session of the legislature before the nomination took place.

The Unity Party further claims that President Weah’s establishment of the Joint Presidential Transition Team and the freeze on employment, borrowings, and payments beyond US$10,000, as outlined in a directive, indicate that the nomination is against best practices.

They argue that the request for early retirement is addressed to the Chief Justice and not the President, so the President's nomination cannot be a response to it.

“Retirement of the Chief Justice, Associate Justices, and Judges is clearly defined by the Constitution of Liberia (1986). Article 72 (b) of the Constitution of Liberia (1986) provides: ‘The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record shall retire at the age of seventy; provided, however, that a justice or judge who has attained that age may continue in office as long as may be necessary to enable him/her to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty regarding proceedings entertained by him/her before he/she attained that age.’ By no stretch of logic can such a letter of request [and permission] to retire create a vacancy on the Supreme Court Bench [and] warrant the nomination of Cllr. Musa Dean,” stated the Unity Party.

Ultimately, the disagreement between the Unity Party and President Weah’s administration highlights the constitutional and procedural issues at play in the confirmation process. The Supreme Court’s decision on whether to lift the stay order will probably determine the future of Minister Dean’s confirmation — which, from all indications, appears bleak.