They say “A word to the wise is quite sufficient.” But Counselor Frances Johnson Allison’s erudite, forthright and profound piece, published in the Monday edition of our newspaper, is far more than a word. It is an elaborate opinion based strictly on the Constitution of Liberia, which is the immortal and permanent Law of the land, changeable ONLY BY THE PEOPLE through Constitutional Referendum.
Take Cllr. Allison’s introductory paragraph, in which she challenges the Supreme Court’s attempt to grant to the Liberian Legislature powers to amend the Liberian Constitution. To prove that the High Court cannot and must not do this, she pointed out inter alia: “A scrupulous review of the Liberian Constitution leaves no shred of uncertainty that the geniuses of the constitution intended to and clearly granted extraordinary powers to the legislature to make laws and regulating matters of public governance including elections and referenda. These include the authority to set eligibility requirements for candidates as the legislature may deem compelling to further overriding state interest and to enhance public policy probity. Under the circumstance, to propose as the petitioner has done, that the legislature is prohibited from conscripting new and additional eligibility requirements for candidates vying for public offices, or that the legislature, by the inclusion of section 15.2 in the Code of Conduct Act, amended the Constitution, is absurd. In the light of the broad authority and powers our forbearers and the crafters of the Constitution have rested in the Legislature, such contention must be rejected.”
What must be rejected? The Legislature’s “Conscripting new and additional eligibility requirements for candidates vying for public office.” This, Cllr. Allison who, like the erudite Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes, has served both as Attorney General and Chief Justice, declared is constitutionally untenable (indefensible, flawed). Why? Because Section 15.2 of the Code of Conduct attempts to grant to the Legislature a power it does not and cannot have—the power “to modify the eligibility requirements for elective offices as established by the Constitution for any elective office, bearing in mind that the legislative power to enact the Elections Law is limited by Article 84 of the Constitution,” Cllr. Allison quoted the Constitution, which states that the Elections Laws to be enacted by the Legislature “shall not be inconsistent with any provisions of the Constitution.”
And she further insisted that Section 15.2 of the Code of Conduct Act is inconsistent with the provision of the Constitution requiring the Legislature to enact laws “promoting national unification and the encouragement of all citizens to participate in government” as provided in Article 5 (a) of the Constitution.
Pray tell us, who can argue with these clauses that are embedded in the Liberian Constitution? Surely not the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court, whose function it is “to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution” and whose responsibility is sacredly limited to not making — NO — but interpreting the Constitution. But attempting to grant to the Legislature the power to add new eligibility laws for persons seeking elective office is something the Supreme Court lacks the power to grant because it is tantamount to
changing the Constitution, “which only a Constitutional referendum can do.”
The Legislature, we all know, does not have referendum powers—it cannot change ANYTHING in the Constitution before legislating the holding of a constitutional referendum, in which THE PEOPLE decide what is to be changed and what is not to be changed.
This is consistent with Article I of the Constitution which states initially and emphatically, “All power is inherent in the people.”
We will stop here and not bother to go into some of Counselor Allison’s other legal arguments—because we think that being lay people and not lawyers, it is enough for us to quote these basic principles enshrined in the Liberian Constitution. The fact is and will ALWAYS remain that NO ONE can change one iota (bit, grain) of the Liberian Constitution except the PEOPLE, in a constitutional referendum.
We finally submit that if the Legislature, the Executive and the Supreme Court (as head of the Judiciary) are interested in a historic, orderly, peaceful and transparent transfer of power come next January, they—the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, will OBEY the Constitution and attempt to change NOTHING that any of them lacks the power to change.
The power to change ANYTHING in the Constitution rests with THE PEOPLE, and the PEOPLE ALONE!