-Concurred Local Government Act Back to HoR for Action
Through a unanimous vote, the Senate at its first extraordinary day of sitting yesterday, September 4, agreed to send the House of Representatives’ (HoR) “Impeachment Notice ” to the Judiciary Committee, with the mandate to review any rule of the Senate on impeachment and related matters.
The notice of impeachment for Supreme Court Associate Justice Kabinneh Ja’neh was submitted to the Senate last Thursday, August 30, but following heated arguments among Senators, Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie “seized the matter,” informing his colleagues that the leadership of the Senate would hold a meeting to discuss the notice of impeachment.
In its briefing to the Senate plenary yesterday, read by the Secretary of the Senate from a prepared statement, the leadership noted that indeed a meeting was held last Friday and that discussion was focused on the notice of impeachment and the determination of the way forward.
“In view of the silence of the Constitution on whether or not the Senate and House of Representatives should jointly or severally prescribe the procedures of impeachment enshrined in Article 43 of the Constitution; and since the House of Representatives has already impeached the Justice in accordance with its own procedures to which the Senate has no authority to interpose an objection, the Liberian Senate should proceed with the prescription of its own procedures to try the impeachment,” the Senate’s leadership communication noted.
Article 43: “The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgments in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings, which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
As a result of this statement, the leadership through the plenary vote has agreed that the “seized matter” should be turned over to Senator Varney Sherman, chaired of Judiciary Committee,which will be expanded by three members.
The term of reference of the committee are to proposed thus: review any rule of the Senate on impeachment and related matters; complement the Senate Rules with other rules and procedures, to ensure adherence to the principles of due process as enshrined in the Constitution and Laws of Liberia; prepare a matrix of activities with timelines for the trial of the impeachment; and report to plenary through the leadership within a week of the endorsement of this briefing.
Meanwhile several senators among the 22 present prior to the vote, expressed divergent views, some very critical: “If there will be an impeachment process, the Senate has two major roles — to ensure that the presentation of the impeachment bill should be done in accordance with the Constitution and our own Rules. As far as we are concerned, I want to remind the Senate and the public that the Senate does not have any impeachment bill in its possession on this Senate floor from the House of Representatives,” Grand Bassa Senator and Liberty Party political leader Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence warned.
She added that “if the notice that came here was accompanied by an impeachment bill, then it must go back.”
However, Senator Lawrence said that if the notice before the Senate did not go there with an impeachment bill, “it should go back and come properly, because until it is received and accepted in accordance with the Constitution, we have no bill; we want to stick to that because impeachment is a disruption of the Constitution; therefore it should be done in accordance with the Constitution.”
Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay, underscoring the supremacy of the courts, recalled that during the process when the article of impeachment was being prepared in the Lower House, “the Supreme Court issued a stay order and invited the House of Representatives to appear. To the best of my knowledge up to this very hour, the House of Representatives never appeared; and being careful not trying to offend our colleagues on the other side, that non-appearance affronted in my mind the Supreme Court.
“And so it takes me back to supremacy of our Constitution; if the Supreme Court, which is the last arbiter of our jurisprudence, our legal system tells you to stop and appear and you refused to stop and appear, then you have an outcome from the process; can the outcome of a behavioral process that the Court authorized you to stop and you did not respect the Court order, can the outcome of that action be accepted to be acted upon in front of the Senate,”? Teahjay wondered.
Meanwhile, the debate continues and from what was observed from among ranking Senators like former President Pro Tempore Armah Jallah and Oscar Cooper, the process is in for a long haul, especially with some Senators opting that the Supreme Court may likely be used to interpret some Constitutional provisions, such as Article 43.