-Justice Wolokollie blasts, as justices approved Ja’neh’s impeachment trial
With just minutes after three of the five Supreme Court justices declined to interfere with the amendment made by majority members of the Senate on its Rule #63 of the Senate Standing Rules to enable them conduct impeachment trial on one of their colleagues, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie on Wednesday, February 6 seriously criticized the decision and termed it as having “reneged on the constitutional duty of a Supreme Court.”
Justice Wolokollie in disagreement with her colleagues’ decision said, “I think the majority justices missed the point.”
Wolokollie further said, “I am left baffled. For the justices not to make a declaration on an alleged violation of the Constitution, where numerous precedents of this court show that it has assumed original jurisdiction in proceedings regarding the question of the constitutionality of an Executive or Legislative action.”
However, the majority justices that include Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, Associate Justices Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh and Joseph Nabge, in the defense of their judgment (opinion) declared, “This court cannot exercise jurisdiction over the individual senators who under Article 42 of the Constitution cannot be held for acts done or performed by them in the Chambers of the Legislature.
Associate Justice Nagbe, who delivered the opinion of the majority, said, “this case was not one of the cases specifically named under Article 66 of which the Supreme Court can exercise original jurisdiction.”
But, Justice Wolokollie maintained that to see her colleagues refusing to make determination into the unconstitutionality of the Senate Rule 63, as claimed by some of the senators, was as an “obvious attempt by this court to avoid its constitutional responsibility of addressing the alleged arbitrariness of the legislature in the procedure to impeach a judicial officer.”
She meanwhile advised the majority that “We must be reminded that it is squarely the function of this court to keep the powers of the government in their respective constitutionally defined orbits, maintaining an agile resistance to attempts at exercise of power not in conformity with the constitution.”
In short, she said, “this court must ensure that the law takes precedence over anarchy, that power is restrained and placed at its proper constitutional axis, and that might does not make right.”
According to her, the business of the court is to resolve controversies especially those in which it has jurisdiction.
“As final arbiter of constitutional issues, it is obvious that until this issue of the interpretation of Article 43 is settled by the Supreme Court, this issue will keep resonating before it, as the law extent in this jurisdiction is that the lower court judge cannot decide a case when the constitutionality of an act of the legislature is squarely challenged.”
For this reasons, Justice Wolokollie noted, “I believe that the court should have gone into and made determination of the constitutional issue raised. I have declined to append my signature to the opinion.”
Article 42 provides that “No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statements made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor.”
Also, Article 66 states “The Supreme Court shall be final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases whether emanating from courts of record, courts not of record, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority, both as to law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers, or cases in which a country is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.”
Four of the 30 senators filed a petition before the Supreme Court contending that their majority colleagues, contrary to the clear mandate of Article 43 of the 1986 Constitution, regarding authority of the legislature as a branch to prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings, they proceeded to amend Rule 63 of the Standing Rules meant for the normal conduct of the business of the senate which was prescribed by the senate alone.
The four senators were Conmany B. Wesseh, Daniel Flomo Naatehn, Milton Teahjay and Oscar Cooper.
They further argued that the sole purpose of the amendment of senate rule was to adopt a procedure to enable the senators to conduct a hearing on the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh, “because there being no such procedures at the Senate, prior to the impeachment of Ja’neh by the House of Representatives, as clearly evidenced by the report of the expanded judiciary committee to review the rule.”
The rule, they claimed, was to provide the procedure from impeachment proceedings thereby arrogating unto themselves the authority and power to prescribe the procedure from impeachment to the exclusion of the House of Representatives.
“The action of the senate and its product, the amended senate rule to provide for impeachment are unconstitutional and so the court should declare it unconstitutional,” they claimed in the petition.
“And the unconstitutionality of the amended senate rule to provide for impeachment cannot be cured, even by the concurrence of the House of Representatives, because the amended rules for the conduct of the any activity of the senate, a separate layer of the legislature. So any attempt by the senators to have the house concur with the action of the senators would also be unconstitutional,” the aggrieved senators argued.