Intense Wrangling in the Works for New Supreme Court Justice
Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks on today, August 7, retires, setting in motion intense wrangling over the future of the Supreme Court which, according to observers, would give President George Weah the chance to shift the balance of the Court with the nomination of his personal choice to replace Banks.
Justice Banks, 70, has been a very strong critic against politicizing appointments at the judiciary. Having served eight years on the bench, he was retired in keeping with Constitutional provisions.
Article 72(b) of the 1986 Constitution provides that, “the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record shall be retired at the age of 70; provided, however, that a justice or judge who has attained that age may continue in office for as long as may be necessary to enable him to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceedings entertained by him before he attained that age.”
The Senate, which must confirm the President’s nominee for the court, is under CDC’s control, which gives President Weah the opportunity to win approval of his choice without any other political party’s support.
Weah’s potential nominees, a source confided to the Daily Observer, include Sinoe County Senator Cllr. Joseph Nagbe and Deputy Agriculture Minister, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, both staunch members of the ruling CDC.
Cllr. Cephus, an Agronomist and former media practitioner, served as legal counsel for President Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change party (now Coalition for Democratic Change) for several years prior to its victory in 2017.
He was recently confirmed by the Senate after he was nominated by President Weah as Deputy Minister for Agriculture.
Similarly, Senator Joseph Nagbe has been a close ally of the ruling CDC, although he won that seat on the ticket of the opposition Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD).
Nagbe is the former chair on the Senate Judicial Committee and now a member of that committee currently chaired by Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County.
If Cllr. Nagbe were to be Weah’s preferred choice over Cephus, he would be immediately confirmed by the senate that is believed to be dominated by CDC.
His confirmation as justice of the Supreme Court means that the country would again have to go through a by-election in Sinoe County to replace Senator Nagbe.
Justice Banks, a graduate of Yale Law School, was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on August 9, 2011, after having served as chairman of the Law Reform Commission.
Banks replaced former Associate Justice Gladys Johnson who similarly retired in April 2011.
He sided with four of the five justices to rule in favor of the contentious 2014 National Code of Conduct (CoC) Act, which caused five members of the Legislature to submit a petition for his impeachment, along with two other Justices of the Supreme Court, including Kabineh Ja’neh and Jamesetta Howard-Wolokolie.
The lawmakers included Senators Dan Morais (NPP, Maryland County), Peter Coleman (CDC, Grand Kru County) Jim Tornola (PUP, Margibi County), Representatives Numene Bartekwa (MPC, Grand Kru County) and George Mulbah (NPP, Bong County).
In their petition, the lawmakers accused the Justices of the Supreme Court of violating their oaths of office by engaging in misconduct, gross breach of duty and exhibiting a clear inability to perform the functions of their offices as Associate Justices.
The lawmakers said the Code of Conduct sought and did effectively usurp the powers and authority of the Legislature to make law and thereby made ineffective and virtually null and void the Code of Conduct.
“NEC made a serious error in that the rejection was single-handedly signed by the Chairman instead of everyone on the Board of Commissioners.”
Banks emphasized that the court acknowledged that Harrison Karnwea, then vice standard bearer of the Liberty Party (LP), violated Section 5.1 of the contentious Code of Conduct (CoC) by holding a press conference on March 14 while serving as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA). Karnwea had announced his resignation from the ruling party and officially joined the Liberty Party.
In the view of the Justices, he substantially complied with the CoC when he resigned after the Supreme Court upheld the CoC as law in the Selena Mappy-Polson Vs. the Government of Liberia’s case.
Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree (Cum Laude), in Sociology and Economics from the University of Liberia, in 1971 and enrolled at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia where he earned his LLB degree (Magnum Cum Laude), General Law (with emphasis on business, criminal and constitutional related areas), in 1974.
Justice Banks thereafter gained admission into the Yale Law School, United States, where he obtained his LLM degree in Corporations and International Law, graduating with honors in 1976. In 1978, he obtained a certificate in International Humanitarian Law and subsequently was a Visiting Scholar at the Yale Law School, the United States of America, in 1990.