Political Action Strikes At the Independence of the Judiciary
"Under state law, if a justice has more than two years left in his or her term and leaves or is removed from office 84 days prior to a general election, the governor appoints an interim justice, and voters pick a new justice during the general election.
Eighty-four days before this year’s general election is Aug. 14." -Charleston Gazette-Mail August 14, 2018.
Today is August 14th.
But impeachment is not removal. So after today any WV Supreme Court Justices picked by the Governor will serve until May 2020. If the WV Senate removes the four Justices impeached early this morning by House Republicans, an entire branch of our state government will be selected by the Governor to serve for almost two years.
What will this captive, politicized judicial branch have to do during that two years?
Rule on legislative redistricting? Rule on the Governor's residence outside the Constitutionally prescribed capitol of the State? Rule on who can run on the ballot this year against Joe Manchin? There are many good reasons the founders of our State provided a degree of independence to the Judicial branch. And why there has never been a judicial impeachment in our State's history.
And there are remedies at hand for "maladministration" short of a coup deposing an entire branch of government. On the ballot in November is an amendment to the State Constitution which provides for legislative oversight of the judicial budget so that there will be transparency and accountability for public funds going forward.
This political action strikes at the independence of the judiciary, which is fundamental to the rule of law. We don't think about that a lot in the USA because we take it for granted that the Courts - State and federal - will provide a reasonably even playing field for all parties without a thumb on the scales of justice due to partisan considerations. That is not true in many other countries which lack judicial independence.
But this political action by the WV Legislature sends a message to judges that they can be removed from office for "maladministration" which can mean anything a political majority says it means. This puts a political cloud over the judiciary which is fundamentally contrary to the rule of law.
Call your West Virginia State Senators and tell them to vote no on the removal of Justices Margaret L. Workman Robin Davis and Beth Walker