-Will the Senators appear?
Four of the 30 senators yesterday asked the Supreme Court to block the upcoming impeachment trial of suspended Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, citing constitutional issues and errors in the amendment to the Senate Standing Rule number 63.
The senators include Conmany Wesseh, Daniel Naatehn, Milton Teahjay and Oscar Cooper who have requested the Court to declare “the Constitutionality Amendment of the Senate Rules to Provide for Impeachment.”
In that request, the four senators contended that their majority colleagues’ adopted the procedure to enable them to conduct a hearing on the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh because there was no such procedure at the Senate prior to the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh by the House of Representatives.
The majority senators have been given 10 days to file their response to the petition filed against them to the Supreme Court.
The 19 Senators recently approved the amended Rule 63 of the Senate’s Standing Rules that created a “usable set rule” and further set a stage for all impeachment proceedings or trials for Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh and any other person, including the President, Vice President, Chief Justice, and Judges.
But, the point of contention for the senators now is whether the majority members would be willing to appear before the Supreme Court, as in the case of the House of Representatives who refused to honor the court’s stay order that should have prevented them from proceeding with Ja’neh’s impeachment. This time, however, the petitioners and respondents are all senators.
The petitioners’ (Wesseh et al) further quoted Article 29 of the 1986 Constitution which provides that “The legislative power of the Republic shall be vested in the Legislature of Liberia which shall consist of two separate houses: A Senate and a House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislation. The enacting style shall be: ‘It is enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia in Legislature assembled.’
They again argued that the impeachment of public officials to include the president lies exclusively with the House of Representatives and the authority to try impeached officials exclusively rests with the Senate, but, according to them, “when it comes to the procedure for impeachment, Article 43 provides that “The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
Contrary to the clear mandate of that article, the four senators claimed that the majority colleagues proceeded to amend Rule 63, which is “meant for the normal conduct of the business of the Senate to provide the procedure for impeachment proceedings.”
They also arrogated unto themselves the authority to prescribe the procedure for impeachment to the exclusion of the House of Representatives, according to their request to the court.
“The action of the senators to amend the Senate rule to provide for impeachment was unconstitutional,” the aggrieved senators contended. “Any attempt by the Senate to have the House of Representatives concur with the action would also be unconstitutional.”
Also, Section 12 of the amended Rule 63 of the Senate rules states that on the day appointed for the commencement of the impeachment trial, the Legislative and Executive business of the Senate shall be suspended and, prior to that, on the order of the President Pro Tempore or the Presiding Officer of the Senate, whichever is applicable, the secretary of the Senate shall give notice to the House of Representatives that the Senate shall commence the impeachment of the person named in the articles/resolutions of impeachment in the Chambers of the Joint Session, which shall be prepared for the accommodation of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
As for witnesses in the impeachment trial, Section 17 says, witnesses shall be examined by one person or his/her legal counsel on behalf of the party producing them, and then cross-examined by one person or his/her lawyer from the other side. The right is reserved to each senator sitting as a jury to pose question directly or examine a witness.
“A senator shall not volunteer or be called as a witness in an impeachment trial,” Section 18 says. This means the President, Vice President, the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives can be called as witnesses.
It added, “If a senator wishes a question to be put to a witness or to offer a motion or order, except a motion to adjourn, it shall be reduced into writing and put by the Presiding Officer of the trial to the witness.”
“In all impeachment proceedings, the verdict of the Senate shall be final, binding and enforceable without any right of appeal therefrom to any forum or person,” Section 26 states.
The House of Representatives on August 28, during the 52nd day sitting of the 54th Legislature, controversially voted to pass a Bill of Impeachment against Associate Justice Kabineh Mohammed Ja’neh.
The motion for the passage of the Bill of Impeachment was proffered by River Gee County District #2 Representative Francis Dopoh.
The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to impeach an official, and the Senate to conduct impeachment trials. The power of impeachment is limited to removal from office.
“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,” Article 43 of the 1986 Constitution said.
It may be recalled that the petition to impeach Justice Ja’neh was filed before the House by Representatives Acarous Gray (Mont. County, District 8) and Thomas P. Fallah (Mont. County District 5). Both alleged that Justice Ja’neh “committed a serious official misconduct by engaging in a wanton and unsavory exercise of his judicial discretion far exceeding the bounds of elementary judicial interpretation of issues simply to satisfy his personal ego.”
The lawmakers also wanted Ja’neh impeached for what they termed as “proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of his office by allegedly allowing justice to be served where it belongs no matter the status of the party affected.”