Legislature, Supreme Court Summon Each Other over Impeachment Proceeding
Monrovia – A towering Supreme Court, an intransigent Legislature and a controversial Code of Conduct are all heading on a collision course which could leave the country at a crossroad.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
“You are hereby commanded to notify the House of Representatives of the Legislature, represented by the Speaker and Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, of the City of Monrovia, Liberia, Respondents, in the above cause of action to appear before the Full Bench of the Honorable Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia, Temple of Justice on Friday, the 18th Day of August A.D. 2017…”
In what the French would call “demonstration de pouvoir” (show of power), the Legislature and the Supreme Court have both summoned the other to appear over an impeachment proceedings.
The Legislature, particularly the lower House is expecting three justices of the Supreme Court – Justice Kabina Ja’neh, Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III and Justice Jamesetta Howard-Wolo-kollie to appear before Plenary to show cause why they should not be held for impeachment.
They are to appear on Monday, August 14, 2017.
The Legislature’s action grew out of the unanimous decision and judgment of the Supreme Court in the Harrison Karnwea Vs. National Elections Commission in which the Court ruled that the Mr. Karnwea failure to resign his post as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) two years prior to this year’s election was not egregious in nature as he was in substantial compliance having resigned after the Court ruled the Code of Conduct constitutional in the Selena Mappy-Polson Vs. The Government of Liberia case.
Identifying series of what they believe are flaws in the Supreme Court’s ruling, the House through the Judiciary Committee averred that the three members of the Supreme Court who signed the opinion and judgment of July 20, 2017 in Karnwea’s case have caused the Supreme Court to usurp the power and functions of the Legislature to make laws.
The Petition: “That is, by ignoring the two or three periods for a person holding a public to resign his office before the date of the election for which he or she intends to canvass and by reducing such period to a mere ‘resignation before filing an application.
For certification with the National Elections Commission’ the Supreme Court simply stated, has usurped the powered the functions and powers of the legislature to make law.
This conduct of the Respondents as majority members of the Supreme Court constitutes misconduct, gross breach of duty and inability to perform the functions of the office of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, for which the Liberian Constitution provides that impeachment, will lie.”
Issues of Constitutionality
The House is awaiting the three Associate Justices to appear, but the Bench believes the lawmakers at the lower House do not have the constitutional authority to cite any Justice of the Supreme Court in connection with any petition for impeachment or to impeach any Justice of the Supreme Court.
“The act and action of the of the House of Representatives in adhering to the prayer of the petitioners and in issuing the Writ of Summons for the purpose of having the Supreme Court appear before that Body for the purpose of that body impeaching them not being authorized by the Constitution and indeed being contrary to the Constitution, since the power of impeachment is vested solely and exclusively in another Body of the Legislature, i.e. the Senate.
The said act is unconstitutional and therefore void of any legal validity.”
“The constitutionality of the of the act by the House of Representatives and its Standing Committee on Judiciary is brought into question and needs to be passed by the Supreme Court,” the Supreme Court indicated in its summons to the House.
The Supreme Court further noted summoning for the purpose of impeachment Justices of the Supreme Court for rendering and decision and judgment entered by the unanimous court in an appeal litigation which did not even involve the House of Representatives is unconstitutional because while Article 71 of the Constitution vests in the Legislature the power of impeachment and conviction of the Chief Justice and Associate Justices “for proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes”, Article 73 explicitly says “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed judicial statements made judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace…”
House Summoned by Supreme Court
The Supreme Court contended that by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution, the House’s decision is without the force of the law and therefore challenged the House to appear before the full bench of the Supreme Court to defend the constitutionality of their action.
“The further question growing out of the foregoing is whether the Legislature has the constitutional power to intervene in a matter between two parties, which matter is appealed to the Supreme Court and upon which the Supreme Court has made a final judgment?” they asked rhetorically.
According to the Supreme Court, under Article 66 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of Liberia is the final arbiter of all disputes and hence any attempt by any person or institution, including any of the other branches of government to review the final decision or judgment of the Supreme Court, as being attempted by the Judiciary Committee of the House is an attempt to circumvent the Constitution of Liberia.
The Supreme Court: “In view of the above, the Clerk of the Supreme Court is herewith authorized and mandated to issue writs of summons on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and members of the Plenary of the House of Representatives that authorized the action of the Judiciary Committee mentioned above to appear before the Honorable Supreme Court to answer to this in RE: Constitutionality of the Judiciary Committee Of The House Of Representatives proceedings to defend the constitutionality of their actions.”
The Supreme Court has also placed on stay order on all actions and pending actions at the House in relation to the impeachment proceedings until the constitutionality of their actions is defended.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General has also been cited by the Supreme Court to be present to give the position of the government on and in defense of the law as required by law.
Also, the clerk of the Supreme Court has been ordered to invite amicus curiae, including the Liberia National Bar Association, the Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, the Female Lawyers of Liberia, and other eminent legal scholars and jurists in the Liberian community as the Supreme Court shall deem expedient and appropriate to present briefs on the issues raised.
Judiciary Committee Remains Firm
In a press statement issued Wednesday, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Worlea-Saywah Dunah, insisted the action of the committee is consistent with the Constitution and that his colleagues who filed the petition for an impeachment proceeding were taking advantage of a provision of the organic law.
According to him, the Constitution clearly states in Article 43 the House of Representatives shall have the power to prepare a bill of impeachment and grant the Senate the power to try said bill were it to be passed by the plenary of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Dunah: “The Committee wants the public to know that the petition is an accusation and those accused will be given the opportunity to defend themselves as the Constitution and has presented a draft procedure to govern the process presented f the same for adoption by the Plenary of the House as required by the same Article 43 of our Constitution.”