Representatives Reject Supreme Court’s Stay Order on Impeachment Proceedings

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Members of the House of Representatives have voted to reject the writ of prohibition issued by the Supreme Court against their impeachment proceedings over three justices of the court.

The high court on Wednesday ordered the Judiciary committee of the House to stay all further actions in the petition for impeachment until it has made a final determination of the constitutionality of their actions.

The court also ordered its clerk to issue writs of summons on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and members of the House of Representatives who authorized the action of the Judiciary Committee to appear before its full bench on Friday, August 18, to defend the constitutionality of their actions.

Members of the House of Representatives on Thursday described the action of the court as an affront to the constitutional authority of the legislature and a violation of the doctrine of the separation of powers.

The lawmakers threatened to resist interference by any branch of the government in the discharge of their duty, terming the court action as unacceptable.

In further defense of their action, the representatives also defeated a motion of reconsideration filed by Representative Edwin Snowe of Montserrado’s sixth district on the passage of the procedure for impeachment of the three justices.

In his motion, Snowe called on his colleagues to disregard the draft resolution seeking the impeachment of the justices. He said the action of the other members of the house was wrong and unconstitutional.

Snowe, who is also a member of the ECOWAS Parliament, had earlier called on his colleagues to abandon their decision against the Supreme Court justices. He said the parliament was against the action.

However, the chairman of the Judicial Committee at the House, Worlea Saywah Dunah, defended the action of the body, terming it as legal.

He said the resolution only sets the basis for the impeachment proceeding under the doctrine of due process.

Five members of the legislature recently submitted a petition to their colleagues for the impeachment of Justices Kabineh Ja’Neh, Jamesetta Wollokollie and Philip Banks.

Senators Dan Morais, Peter Coleman and Jim Tornola; and Representatives Numene Bartekwa and George Mulbah had petitioned the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives, accusing the justices of violating their oaths of office by engaging in misconduct, gross breach of duty and exhibiting clear inability to perform the functions of their offices as associate justices.

“We petition you to cite theses justices to show cause, if any, why they should not be impeached and removed from their offices as associate justices of the Supreme Court,” the lawmakers told the Judiciary committees in their petition.

The lawmakers said their petitions were in response to the recent Supreme Court rulings involving the Code of Conduct.

In July, the court ruled to clear Liberty Party’s vice standard bearer Harrison Karnwea and Jeremiah Sulunteh, running mate on the Alternative National Congress ticket, to contest the October 10 elections.

Both men’s nominations were rejected by the National Elections Commission because the commission said they had violated the Code of Conduct by not resigning their positions two years prior to the election.

Karnwea and Sulunteh filed separate petitions to the court against NEC to reverse its decision against them.

The court, in its opinion, questioned NEC’s decision to reject the two individuals’ nominations, noting that they were in “substantial compliance” of the law, contrary to the commission’s argument. Justices Phillip Banks and Jamesetta Wolokollie read the rulings on behalf of the court.

Excluding Justice Sie-a-Nyene Yuoh, who was out of the country during the ruling, the court’s opinion was signed by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the three associate justices. It is not clear why the lawmakers’ action is only directed at the three justices. The court questioned the legal authority and power of the representatives to cite any justice for opinions rendered by the court.

The constitution protects the justices from being “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, and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers.”

The court said any attempt by any person or institution, including any of the other branches of the government, to review its final decision or judgment, as is being attempted by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and the Plenary of the House of Representatives, is not only unconstitutional, but also an attempt to circumvent the Constitution.

Another member of the house who has expressed a dissenting view on the body’s decision is Montserrado’s eighth district representative, Acarous Gray.

Gray said the action of the lawmakers for a bill of impeachment was politically motivated, and only intended to promote a Boakai presidency.

Featured photo courtesy of David Stanley

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is currently a senior student at the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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