The Seats of the Legislature and the Judiciary
Even if it threatens to affect the legislative agenda of the 53rd Legislature – majority members of the House of Representatives with few members of the Senate will pursue an impeachment against Associate Justices Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokillie, and Philip A.Z. Banks, III, justifying that the Legislature is doing its mandate under the 1986 Constitution.
With 17 days to go to the formal ending of the 53rd Legislature (August 30), about 37 Representatives – constituting a simple majority of the House is willing to affix their signatures to the impeachment case against the three Associate Justices, House’s Majority Bloc Leader Rep. Numene Bartekwa told the Daily Observer exclusively.
He made the remark after he proffered the motion to endorse the Draft Resolution of the Impeachment.
“The Impeachment will be prepared before the 30th of August,” two other lawmakers said in a chorus during Tuesday and Thursday’s sessions.
The Legislature, according to its Rules and Procedures, adjourns for an annual break on the 30th of August each year and constitutionally returns to work the second working Monday in January (Article 32a).
On Tuesday, August 8 – in the 52nd day sitting, members of the House of Representatives endorsed a Draft Resolution setting out the rules for the impeachment proceedings, based on a recommendation from its Committee on Judiciary, chaired by Atty. Worlea Saywah Dunah of Nimba County District # 7.
Rep. Dunah told Plenary that a writ of summons was issued to each of the three Associate Justices.
According to his report, the law gives ten (10) days for answer/returns to be filed in civil cases. This indicates that the Associate Justices have up to August 14 to file their returns.
The report indicated that the Draft Resolution set out the rules to govern the impeachment of Justices Kabineh Ja’Neh, Jamesseta Howard-Wolokollie and Philip A.Z. Banks, III and it states that failure on their part to file their returns within ten (10) days; a declaration of default shall be rendered against them.
Accordingly, the Judiciary Committee of the Honorable House of Representatives shall cause a preliminary hearing to be held where the petitioners shall be given the opportunity to orally present their petition, and the three Associate Justices shall be given the opportunity to defend themselves.
It may be recalled that the Judiciary Committee was mandated last Thursday, 3 August by Plenary to review and advise the August Body on the way forward to the impeachment of Associate Justices Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokillie, and Philip A.Z. Banks, III.
Several lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives submitted a petition calling for the impeachment of the three Associate Justices for allegedly violating their oath of office by engaging in misconduct, gross breach and inability to perform their functions.
Final Resolution before August 30?
In spite of the appeal by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the legal tussle overwhelming the Legislature and the Supreme Court, the House is expected before August 30 to draw the impeachment.
Justices Kabineh Ja’neh, Philip A. Z. Banks, III and Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie are expected to appear before Plenary to show cause (s) why they should not be held for impeachment.
The Legislature’s action grew out of the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in the Harrison Karnwea vs National Elections Commission in which the Court ruled that Mr. Karnwea’s failure to resign his post as managing director of the Forestry Development Authority two years prior to the October 2017 elections was not egregious in nature as he was in substantial compliance, having resigned after the court had ruled the Code of Conduct constitutional in the case of Selena Mappy-Polson vs The Government of Liberia.
The House, which thinks that the Supreme Court had erred in its ruling, through its Judiciary Committee indicated that the three members of the Supreme Court who signed the opinion and judgment of July 20, in Karnwea’s case, have caused the Supreme Court to usurp the power and functions of the Legislature to make laws.
However, the Judiciary said on Wednesday that the House does not have the constitutional authority to cite any Justice of the Supreme Court in connection with any petition for impeachment or to impeach any Justice of the Supreme Court. It said the act is unconstitutional and therefore void of any legal validity.
The Supreme Court contended that by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution, the House’s decision is without the force of the law and therefore challenged the House to appear before the full bench of the Supreme Court to defend the constitutionality of their action. The Supreme Court said in view of Article 66 of the Constitution, it is clothed with the power as the final arbiter of all disputes and hence any attempt by any person or institution, including any of the other branches of government, to review the final decision or judgment of the Supreme Court, is unconstitutional.
Regardless of whether the current Senate of the 53rd Legislature could ensure the impeachment proceeding of the three Associate Justices, the House of Representatives believes that the government is continuity. Therefore, as both Houses of the Legislature take their final annual break on August 30, the Senate in the 54th Legislature is expected to continue the proceedings.
Article 71 of the 1986 Constitution says: The Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed by impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.
Lawmakers Divided on Social Media
Montserrado County District # 8 Representative, Acarous M. Gray has expressed his disagreement with the impeachment of the three Associate Justices on social media.
“I am in total disagreement on this one,” Rep. Gray said. “Colleagues, should we impeach the President for not encouraging her appointees to resign or get dismissed for not implementing the Code of Conduct or should we impeach those of our colleagues who have their family members in their employ at the Legislature?
“Whether we like it or not, it speaks volumes to intimidation and a punishment for their judicial opinion which is a constitutional right given to them and us by the people of Liberia. Again I do differ and hope that we will not reduce the judiciary to a legislative puppet for opinions expressed.”
Representatives R. Matenokay Tingban and George S. Mulbah, however, defended their action to impeach the three Associate Justices on social media.
“Anybody can be impeached if a violation of certain part of the law attributed to a particular person or persons requires that,” Rep. Tingban said.
Responding to Rep. Gray’s dissatisfaction, Rep. George Mulbah wrote: “Carry your vote.”
For his part, Rep. Larry P. Younquoi, who claimed to be neutral in the debate, stated: “We haven’t seen anything yet. The Tyler saga was a litmus test to what is obtaining today. With the Code of Conduct obliterated and the Supreme Court under threat of being impeached, we are beginning to sense what will obtain at the end of the transition.
“However, it is not late for the Liberian people to put their lost steam back on track. Let’s stop the mudslinging and name calling in order to give our burgeoning democracy and the workability of our Constitution a chance.”
In the upper house, Senators Dan Morais and Peter Coleman are leading the campaign for the impeachment of Justices Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokillie, and Philip A.Z. Banks, III.