24 July 2017

Liberia: Legislature to 'Impeach' Supreme Court?

Photo: FrontPage Africa
The court ruled in favor of the Liberty Party of Charles Walker Brumskine.

The Daily Observer has gathered that some members of the House and Representatives and the Senate are organizing an impeachment against the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court for what they called "their bias or inability to perform the functions of their offices" for clearing the nomination of two Vice Presidential candidates, Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party (LP) and Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), to contest the October presidential and legislative elections.

Article 71 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia gives the Legislature the authority to remove the Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record because of "bad" behavior. The Constitution states that they may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on "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."

On Friday, during the Senate's special session, Maryland County Senator Dan Morais walked out of the session when his colleagues refused to include his recommendation on the agenda to "discuss the Judicial Review of the Supreme Court's Opinion." Sen. Morais argued that the discussion is "far more important because the Supreme Court's ruling is not only dangerous, but it has the propensity to undermine the peace and stability of the country." About 8 senators out of the 16 voted against placing Morais' recommendation on the Agenda, arguing that Friday's special session was intended to concur with the House of Representatives on the 2017/2018 National Budget and not to discuss the judicial review of the Supreme Court's opinion on Karnwea and Sulunteh.

It has also been gathered that most of the senators who endorsed the presidential bid of Vice President Joseph N. Boakai are part of the pro-impeachment group. The Daily Observer has further gathered that some members of the Lower House have also expressed their disappointment with the opinion of the Supreme Court. In a telephone conversation with the House's Majority Bloc Leader Rep. Numene Bartekwa, he indicated that "personally, the Supreme Court's ruling is bad" and that, as a representative, he would read the basis of any impeachment proceeding before affixing his signature. It has not been confirmed whether members of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) - comprising NPP, CDC and LPDP - are in favor of impeaching of the Supreme Court Justices, but it has been reliably learnt that they too would join the "like minded senators or representatives" in their attempt to remove the Justices.

Impossibility!

Some pundits argued that the standard for "good behavior", as expressed in the Constitution, is one that is more stringent than "at the pleasure of the President" or "Legislature," but less stringent than the "high crimes and misdemeanors" required to impeach the President. Ultimately, the grounds for impeachment are pretty much whatever the Representatives and Senators believe them to be. The pundits believe that a Supreme Court justice cannot practically be impeached, because it's technically impossible, according Article 43 of the Constitution, which says: "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. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgments 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 the requirements of due process of law."

Pundits also argued that, given the time frame, it would also be impossible because the Legislature has closed - is on break for the 170th independence celebration - and will resume work on Thursday, August 3. And after it resumes work, the Legislature will go on its final closure on August 31.

Supreme Court's "bad" ruling

The Supreme Court said both Karnwea and Sulunteh were in substantial compliance with the Code of Conduct (CoC) Act, contrary to the NEC's contention that both men were in violation. The court's opinion (ruling) in favor of the Karnwea and Sulunteh were delivered separately by Associate Justices Philip A.Z. Banks and Jamesetta H. Wolokollie.

Delivering Karnwea's ruling, Justice Banks said that he was in substantial compliance with the code and that his violation of the act was not egregious in nature suggesting that "as the term was determined, interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court in the case Serena Mappy Polson versus the Republic of Liberia, which held the CoC to be constitutional." Polson challenged the constitutionality of the code, but the Supreme Court ruled 3 in favor and 2 against, thereby making the code constitutional. Polson currently serves as Superintendent of Bong County, the position she held when she challenged the constitutionality of the code. Justice Banks emphasized that "the case of Abu Kamara versus the National Elections Commission, which elaborated upon the application of the term and the penalty of disbarment, is not applicable to Karnwea."

"Karnwea's case is remanded to the NEC to expeditiously conduct a due process of law by hearing his application and to make a determination within 48 hours of receipt of the mandate of the Supreme Court of the level of penalty that will be commensurate with the magnitude of the violation - to be imposed on Karnwea from the ranges of penalties outlined in the code that fall below the penalty of disqualification, which is applicable to only egregious violation of the code," Justice Banks ruling stated.

Kamara currently serves as assistant minister for administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which post he also held when he was rejected by the NEC, whose decision he challenged at the Supreme Court.

According to Banks, the standard laid down, being that where an applicant has resigned his position prior to filing an application before the NEC to contest an elective public office and thereby showing substantial compliance with the code, as of the date of the decision of the Supreme Court in the Polson case, "the violation is not to be considered egregious and that the NEC shall apply only the applicable penalty laid in the code, short of disbarment or disqualification," the justice explained.

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