Senate Sends ‘Impeachment Notice’ to Judiciary Committee

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At the Senate, the "impeachment" debate continues and, from what was observed from among ranking Senators, 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.

-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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. What a shame when alleged educated lawmakers cannot figure out a common word in a sentence the constitution will then conclude that the constitution is “silence” about what they as lawmakers should do or not do . But when the constitution speaks of that the legislature shall passed a budget, that is easy for them to understand that means that each chamber will work on its own but jointly through a process passed the budget for signing. They understand that part about the legislature shall passed a budget. So what is so hard to figure out about the legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment that makes the constitution ” silence ” ? As to make the lawmakers to think that the constitution wants the House to do its own thing under its rules and the Senate do its own thing under the Senate rules ? Even if they worked separately on the procedures in regards to their individual rules , they still have to pass the procedure jointly, making it a legislative procedure for the impeachment proceedings. The constitution recognized that the impeachment proceedings in the legislature is a political proceedings and not the usual standard court proceedings. Hence, there is a need for a legislative procedure for the impeachment proceedings respecting the due process rights of the accused. The constitution would like to know if under the political legislative procedures for the impeachment proceedings, does the accused has a right to face his accusers ? In this case the House of Representatives. If yes, how will it be done ? Through his lawyers only ? Since the constitution mandates that all accused person has a constitutional right to face his accusers. If no, then why ? How many witnesses can the accused call ? Ten, two , five or as many as he likes ? Should all investigations of the accused be held in the full Judiciary committee or only through the individual House Ad hoc committee ? The constitution would like to know that also . When should the accused be informed of his charges, after he is impeached or before he is impeached or doing the proceedings ? Will he be informed directly or through his lawyers ? At what time is the accused allowed to change his lawyers ? Is there any room for an appeal ? If yes , to where, if no , why not ? Since the proceedings are not the normal court house settings but a political settings this is why the constitution expects a joint legislative procedures for the impeachment proceedings. The accused has a right to know about the procedures being used as to protect his right to due process under the law. This could had easily be settled jointly if they knew how to think or read . But whole thing was the House has the authority to impeach and the Senate to conduct the proceedings. How about the legislative procedure for the impeachment proceedings as called for by the constitution for the accused in regards to the his due process under the law ? That they don’t know. But claimed that the constitution is “silence ” on the way forward to achieve that . So the Senate will on its own and through its rules tell the accused only two witnesses are allowed . Can’t change your lawyers . No , can’t face your accuser . No appeal allow. No, breaks allow to consult with your lawyers . Can’t blah blah blah blah, can’t blah blah blah blah blah. What a waste of time with these people !

    • Furthermore and importantly when is the accused allow to know about his rights under the procedure being used by the Senate ? When they through writing the procedures from the Senate rules for the impeachment proceedings ? Isn’t that wrong ? Just starting to write out a procedure to be used in order to try someone when the alleged wrong doing took place a long time ? If we all went before a judge and the judge requested the accused to wait until he is finished setting up the procedure to be used in the proceedings, right there , we all kind of know that we are guilty. Because the procedure being worked on by the judge after the alleged allegations of wrong doing may just fit the allegations as charged and denied us our basic rights. That is what being going on with the people we trust as lawmakers .

  2. I am sure most, if not all, of the lawmakers in both the House and the Senate obtained a JD and/or LLM law degrees. I’m not sure if any obtained his or her JD from a U.S law school, which would have prepared them with a greater understanding of Constitutional laws, since it is part of the JD program and goes in depth. I am aware that there might be one or two members who obtained LLM (Master of Law) from Harvard, or MLS (Master of Legal Studies) from a U.S law school and may have specialized in constitutional matters and/or business. But in large part, with these exceptions, there seems to be a gap in the understanding of simple jurisprudence because of the lack of proper legal education in constitutional law by the vast majority of the members of the Legislature. Or perhaps these lawmakers are simply choosing to ignore the Constitution in order to follow what they would like to see happen, even if it breaches the constitution. That may be part of the culture of the society where public official feels they can simply ignore the law if the law go against their personal desire of what an outcome should be in a case. I see this behaviors exhibited even from some local lawyers who have ventured out of legal norm in suggesting for a boycott of the Courts or impressing on the Chief Justice not to perform his presiding role over the Senate trial, which would be an impeachable offense should the Chief Justice do such.

    There’s just no excuse for the numerous misinterpretations of the constitution. They should have acquired the analytical skills in law school, required to research and understand case laws, U.S. jurisprudence where there are enough amount of precedents to study the role of the Branches in their vested sole functions. The Constitution is not concerned with what we feel ought to be the process. It has already addressed that. Just follow what it says, and if there’s no precedent, follow the letter of the law. One should not read into the Constitution what is not there or extract from the Constitution what a person does not see written there and no prior interpretations exist to provide a contrary meaning from what’s written.

    Article 43 gives the Senate the authority to conduct the trial for the Bill of Impeachment submitted to them. Period. There’s no provision in the constitution that the procedures should have already been prepared before accepting the Bill. In fact, there’s no provision for the Senate to decide on whether to accept or deny the Bill. They are obligated to accept the bill. They can vote as per their own procedures to reject the charges and vote not to convict or decide to proceed with the hearing and serve notices to the accused public official as well as the House Managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate trial. The Senate doesn’t need the Supreme Court to decide how it should go about in drafting and implementing its procedures. That role is vested solely with the Senate. Article 43 never mandated a timeframe for the Chambers to have enacted processes and procedures in each Chamber for Impeachment. There’s no joint legislative procedures mandated by the Constitution as written or in any reading of case laws in both Liberia and the U.S. Since there is a need now, because of the pending trial to have the procedure in place, the Senate should simply adhere to the authority given them and put in place the procedures before proceeding. The procedures is simply to guide the Senate on how to proceed and is necessary for the presiding Chief Justice, as he is to preside based on the procedures of the Senate and not the administrative laws of the courts.

    There’s no provision to provide a copy of the Senate procedures to the accused except when upon resumption of the trial at the Senate, the parties will be served notice to appear before the Senate to answer to charges as stated in the Bill of Impeachment, which will be part of the notice. Also for the general public, the trial is not about debating the Senate’s procedures, but the charges against the accused Associate Justice under due process of law. Many commenters raised questions that are not relevant to the proceedings, and by that I mean the Constitution does not raise those questions, even if people think those are legitimate questions. They are simply not what the Constitution require. Part of the problem I see from reading Article 43 and with my understanding of U.S., jurisprudence, is that we have the judiciary branch involved in the impeachment of a public official, other than the President. Under U.S. jurisprudence, the Chief Justice presides over the Senate’s trial only when the President is being tried. In the case of other public officials, the Senate serves as both the judge and jury. copies of the Senate’s order for and You therefore have lawyers not wanting to appear naïve about the law speaking on issues without doing any study in constitutional jurisprudence to justify why they take a certain position.

    The purpose of the trial is for the accused public official to defend his rights. It’s not the Senate’s role to tell him what his rights are. That’s his role and that’s the reason the trial is being held. For those who were concerned about due process of laws, but didn’t understand its application, this is where it is applicable. Now the Lawyers of the accused public official will have a copy of the charges prior to the trial and will have ample time to prepare their legal defense and at trial before the senate will get an opportunity to make their case both legally as well as politically. Note the charges have both legal and political implication. And so, the strategy of the defense is to both apply the law in defending the accused from criminal charges and make the political argument in defending the accused from charges that serve to imply he undermined the integrity of the office of public trust. Most time, being persuasive with the political defense is what would appeal to majority of the Senators, just from a study of U.S. legal history, that would make majority of the Senators vote against conviction. The legal case is clear cut, as the law is the law. The political defense takes into consideration the magnitude of the decision the Senate will make and the implications if the Senate vote wrong, namely the institution could be damaged and voters will hold accountable the Senators who vote against what voters feel were not in their best interest.

  3. Brilliant explanations and analysis Mr. James Davis and Mr. Larry Emerson. I assume you both are legal scholars. Thanks again for guiding us laity.

  4. I’m worried less about a constitutional crises than a civil crises. If all the Justices of the Supreme Court decide not to fulfill their obligations to protest to the House’ action, and with some local lawyers seemingly having a rogue interpretation of the Constitution in support of such action, that may lead the House and Senate to impeach and remove the justices for cause. So the Legislature can and will prevent any constitutional crises. The Legislature is given the authority to protect foundational principles of a functional democracy. As I stated in another comment, in the U S., Congress have by far protected individual rights in far more cases when the courts were simply silent. And that theory would be applicable for Liberia, where the Legislature has that responsibility.

    Considering how recently, the proceedings have triggered tribal and sectarian protests (e.g., Nimba Bar Association’s protest letter and the Liberia University Nimba Students Association protest) one should wonder if the citizenry is matured enough to accept and live by the Constitution or if response to an action to constitutionally impeach and remove the Justices for cause will be based on feelings of tribal, sectarian a affiliations only. What behaviors will be reflected to demonstrate that?So, this is more a challenge to the citizenry. Are they willing to support the Constitution or not?

    The following statement is attributed to a Senator:

    ‘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.”

    To the Senator, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the matter and had correctly ruled in a similar case in the former Speaker Tyler’s petition. Every court must first establish its jurisdiction to hear a case. Abd a writ of prohibition is issued by a higher court to a lower court in the appellate process. The House of Representatives is not a Court and certainly not a subordinate body to the Supreme Court on House matters exclusively vested in the House.

    The above article further quotes the Senator with the below:

    ‘“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.’

    Again to the Senator. The Court has already erred by stopping a process it has no jurisdiction in hearing. The appropriate and legal decision of the Court would’ve been to declare the petition for the writ as non justiciable. Why? Because the Court cannot find any constitutional provision to establish its jurisdiction over the matter without running afoul of Article 43. The Supreme Court failed to exercise its role as final arbiter of he law when it should have done so with the petition was filed. The misunderstanding people have is that because the Court is the final arbiter of law, it must hear a case to make that determination. Not so. It has to first establish its jurisdiction to hear a case. Answers to constitutional questions around some petitions are easily determined simply by the facts and nature of the petition and the Court’s own jurisdiction over the matter as delineated in the Constitution. That’s why this is a major faux pas on the part of the Court.

  5. The adversarial relationship between the judiciary and the legislature branches may prove beneficial in the end to the citizens of Liberia. Minimize “free passes ” to “big shot legislators in the court systems. A pandora box has opened. The law now becomes a” vindictive weapon of revenge ” between some of those in power going forward.
    “Justice will be served “

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