Which way is the clash between the Legislature and the Supreme Court headed is the question on the minds of the public. This question arises in the wake of recent action by the House of Representatives to disregard the Writ of Prohibition on impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh as prayed for by his lawyers.
At bar is the essential question of whether Associate Justice Sie-Nyene Yuoh was indeed clothed with the legal and constitutional authority to command the issuance of such a Writ. This issue has become contentious to the point where questions are being asked about which way the country’s democracy is headed, given what is perceived by some as a dangerous power play between the two branches of government with a potentially destabilizing effect on national governance.
For answers to this question and in an effort to enlighten the public on this issue, the Daily Observance sought reliance on the Constitution and on precedents in case law since this matter, in the opinion of this newspaper, hinges on the Separation of Powers doctrine enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia.
Article 2 of the Constitution states that the “Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of the land and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic”. This provision of the Constitution implies compulsory compliance by all state bodies as well as individuals with the tenets of Article 2. It means compliance by all three branches of government.
Further, in Article 3, the Constitution states that “the form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary”. Article 3 further states, “Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous agency”.
Lawyers representing Justice J’aneh have maintained that the House of Representatives by constituting an Ad hoc committee, rather than the House’s Judicial Committee to probe Ja’neh’s alleged misdeeds, have violated the principle of “Due Process” and have accordingly prayed the Court to place a “Stay Order” on such impeachment proceedings.
But this newspaper, having found it difficult to reconcile such arguments with provisions of Article 43, for better understanding, sought reliance on precedents in case law to further understand the issue(s) at bar. Article 43 of the Constitution says that “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”.
Article 43 further states “when the President, Vice President, or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No persons shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgment 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 requirements of due process of law”.
Given the above, this newspaper is at pains to understand the basis or reasons for praying the Court to issue a stay order on proceedings in the House when it is the sole prerogative of the House to hold such impeachment proceedings. The impeachment proceedings have not even begun and therefore the argument whether such procedures violates “due process” remains difficult to understand.
Referring to precedent case law, this newspaper draws reliance on the opinion of the Supreme Court in the case, LLR Vol 7 Page 212, Joseph F. Dennis, Relator vs Republic of Liberia, Edward J. Summerville, Circuit Judge of the Circuit Court of the First Judicial Circuit, Montserrado County, and M. Dukuly, County Attorney for Montserrado County, Respondents. Appeal from The Chambers of Mr. Justice Tubman. Argued February 3, 1941 and Decided February 21, 1941.
In that case, the Defendant/Relator was convicted of embezzlement. He contested a motion by the County Attorney for enforcement of the final judgment but before the trial judge could make a decision on the matter the Defendant/Relator sued out of the Chambers of Justice Tubman for a Writ of Prohibition.
The Writ was denied by Chamber Justice Tubman but the Defendant/Relator took an appeal to the Court en banc, meaning the full bench of the Court. In that case ruling, the Supreme Court ruling pointed out the following: 1. A Writ of Prohibition will lie only in cases of manifest necessity 2. It is the present policy of the Court to discourage removal of cases to the Supreme court other than by regular appeals. 3. A Writ of Prohibition to prevent enforcement of a final judgment in the lower court will be denied where the lower court has not yet acted 4. It would be inconsistent to deny a Writ of Prohibition and to enforce a lower court order since the former confirms the jurisdiction of the lower Court whereas the latter implies that the lower court, having jurisdiction has neglected to perform its duty and this court will perform it in its stead”.
Given all the above, this newspaper poses the question whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over such impeachment proceedings in the Legislature. Further, granted that the Supreme Court does have jurisdiction, then we must pose the question: Where is the “manifest necessity” that impels the court to rush head-on into such uncharted realms?
Was it motivated by a manifest desire to come in defense of a dear colleague such that the rules of the game (The Constitution) would be altered to fit their desires?
The Daily Observer cannot help but remind members of the Supreme Court Bench that there is no need to create Constitutional crises needlessly and resultantly push the nation to the brink. This game of brinkmanship and showmanship bears ill omen for the nation and should therefore be STOPPED!