A Minister of Justice in any country is a big deal. This means it is a very important, even powerful position—why? Because he or she is the President or Head of State’s Chief Legal Advisor and also a critical part of the cornerstone of the nation’s judicial system.
“Oh,” some may ask, “We thought the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices comprised the cornerstone of the national judicial system.” They do. However, remember that the Attorney General or Minister of Justice is the Dean of the Bar—the Bar to which every Liberian lawyer, from the Justices of the Peace, the Magistrates, every lawyer and even to the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court belong.
We are happy to note that Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and his colleagues on the bench understand this fully well. As a result, he never misses a Convention of the National Bar Association. The lawyers highly appreciate this, for it makes them consider him one of them, a colleague, indeed a senior friend and one who, despite his lofty position, does not consider himself too big, too important to identify with them as a fellow legal practitioner.
One of Attorney General-to-be, Counselor Frederick Cherue’s predecessors, Louis Arthur Grimes, arguably Liberia’s most celebrated lawyer, was also once an Attorney General and Dean of the Bar during the King administration (1920-1930). Mr. Grimes’ Opinions as Attorney General, yea his Opinions as Chief Justice are still taught in Law Schools.
When in 1934 President Edwin J. Barclay named Mr. Grimes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, at least one Senator opposed Grimes’ confirmation on the grounds that he was a close cousin of President Barclay. This appointment, the Senator said, was wrong. What that Senator neither knew nor appreciated was Mr. Grimes’ intelligence as a lawyer and his unquestioned integrity as an individual.
Liberian lawyers love to quote Mr. Grimes who, as Chief Justice, delivered an opinion that seriously irritated guess whom? President Edwin J. Barclay!
This was in the case Juah Weeks Wolo versus P. Gbe Wolo. The Legislature had granted Mr. Wolo a divorce against his wife, Madam Juah Wolo. A most unfortunate thing had happened. Mr. Wolo, the first African to graduate from Harvard University, had impregnated three young girls staying with him and his wife. He later moved out of the home and his wife Juah sued for alimony (support). It was at that point that he sought to divorce her and he and his powerful friends got the Legislature to do it.
Someone pinched Mrs. Wolo to run to the Supreme Court for redress. She did.
Chief Justice Grimes himself, on February 12, 1937, delivered the Opinion of the High Court. As a matter of constitutional principle, he declared that he rejected the Legislature’s decision in granting Mr. Wolo a divorce. Why? Chief Justice Grimes ruled that divorce was a Judicial, NOT a Legislative function. Therefore, any ruling contrary to that was not withstanding—in other words UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
That decision infuriated President Barclay, but there was nothing he could do about it! He had made his own cousin Chief Justice and had to respect the constitutional principle of “separation of powers.” That is one of the cornerstones of Liberian Constitution.
We pose, at this juncture, this question to the two men— he topmost legal authorities in the Republic—Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and Attorney-General-designate Frederick Cherue: Do either of you have the temerity (the audacity, courage, gall) to render, as did Chief Justice Grimes, an opinion that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would not like?
What are we talking about? We are talking primarily about the so-called Code of Conduct which the Legislature passed two years ago, denying a Liberian-born citizen, who is of age, has no criminal record and no foreign nationality, the right to contest the presidency or any other office.
That legislation has already been challenged in the Supreme Court, whose opinion on the matter is now pending. The public is wondering why it has taken the High Court so long to render an opinion, which has very serious implications for the fast-approaching 2017 presidential and general elections.
As the President’s Chief Legal Advisor, Attorney General Cherue, who was River Gee Senior Senator when that law was passed, now has the critical and historic opportunity to advise the President and the High Court on the CONSTITUTIONALITY of that legislation.
Mr. Cherue must look deeply into the law books, particularly the Liberian Constitution, to determine whether or not that legislation will hold, in the face of the integrity and supremacy of the Constitution.
Here is an opportunity for these two men—Chief Justice Korkpor and Attorney General Cherue—to rise to the eminence of Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes. Can they? Will they?
Only time will tell.