Who Replaces Banks: CDC’s Nagbe or Cephus?

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Cllr. Syrenius Cephus and Senator Joseph Nagbe

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.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Stewart, somewhere in another opinion piece in this paper inquired, “where are the patriots?” Lamenting the virtual absence of men and women of conscience when it comes to important decisions affecting/impacting the national body politic. This is one of those times or decisions, wherein Liberian men/women of conscience and especially those in the legal profession who understand the implication of this decision way more than the rest of us laypeople ought to stand up, to ensure that the Bank’s replacement on the high court be someone of high moral repute; upright in character; someone honest; someone forthright in thoughts, someone who has demonstrated by way of past legal work experience, utterances, written opinions on critical socio-politico issues to be competent, knowledgeable, eloquent and well grounded in the law beyond any partisan consideration. The Supreme Court as we all know and agree by way of our constitution, is a court of last resort in the land. Meaning when that court rules in a case, that decision is final and the case is closed. Perhaps until sometime in the future when that decision could possibly be overturned and based in whatever the judicial justification. Unlike in a two-party system like in the US, we are blessed to not be restrained by party interest, or ideological consideration in the selection of one of our best legal minds in the country for this selection. It would therefore serve our national interest well were president Weah to expand this search for a replacement justice for our high court beyond the CDC. Let the high court exemplify a place of impartiality and justice for all citizens alike, not stacked with political stooges waiting to do party biddings.

  2. What an irony that Mr. Hilary Snyder is long-winded on the issue of appointing a Supreme Court Justice, albeit important, after accusing me of “verbosity” when I was talking of the indispensability of political stability to, in sum, a safer, richer, and happier Liberia.

    Moreover, amazingly, he doesn’t want President Weah to follow the ‘best practice’ or precedent set by US Presidents of nominating Supreme Court justices based on political affiliations with the nominees. Well, Weah, won’t go against a tradition of our American benefactors, protectors, and partners because pundits in the media and Facebook philosophers would say he is clueless. So the President should nominate either Senator Nagbe or Deputy Minister Ceephus in keeping with a US norm.

  3. President Weah should dutifully follow “best practice” or precedent set by numerous US Presidents and nominate someone from CDC, either Senator Nagbe or Deputy Minister Cephus. The Americans have pragmatic reasons for not decrying that tradition; as a matter of fact, they anticipate it anytime there is an opening in the Supreme Court.

  4. I am very disappointed by the author of this article for failing to present the judicial record of the potential nominees or anything about past legal practice (written legal opinions, law journal articles published, case laws argued especially on constitutional matters. This was a poorly written article in that it lacked analyses and substance of what is most important— and that is what kind of SC Justice are the two persons referenced in this article likely to be?

  5. A wise person once said, “In many lines of work, it isn’t how much you do that counts, but how much you do well and how often you decide right.”

    Decisions made by the five justices on the Supreme Court of Liberia have immeasurable ramifications on the lives of all Liberians and foreigners residing in its territory.

    Yes indeed, it is the constitutional prerogative of the president to nominate whomever he deems fit to sit on the bench of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, it is also morally incumbent upon the president and senators to uphold their sacred duties to protect and defend the constitution of Liberia.

    It is the senate constitutional duties to either confirm or reject a nominee they deem not qualify to sit on the bench of the Supreme Court. Anything short of this constitutional mandate will be a slap in the face of Liberians who elected these senators to represent them.

    A Judge decision should not be based on his /her political affiliation…or his /her personal judicial philosophy. A Supreme Court Justice or judge should be a person who is experience in all facets of the law….or has the requisite legal knowledge in the interpretation of the law.

    The Liberian Bar Association could play a key role in helping President Weah vet the most qualified legal person for such a critical post. The Liberian Bar Association is very cognizant of many well-respected lower court judges, well-qualified constitutional lawyers, well-qualified Appellate Court Judges, who are exceptionally well respected to become the next Supreme Court Associate Justice of Liberia.

    It would be a national embarrassment to appoint someone, a friend or party associate, who has never practice law; neither taught law; nor, ever served as a lower coat court judge……..less alone who does not even know how to write a befitting judicial opinion.

    Let us take this highly reputable position seriously. Any careless decision in confirming the wrong person to the Supreme Court of Liberia has the potential to disrupt the peace, and has the potential to disrupt our newly found democracy.

    Therefore, it is time for President Weah to make the right decision with the help of The Liberian Bar Association to pick the next Supreme Court Associate Justice of Liberia.

    So help him (President Weah) God!!!

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