House of Representatives Drops Impeachment Proceedings Against Supreme Court Justices

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The House of Representatives has dropped its impeachment proceedings against three justices of the Supreme Court.

During its 56th plenary sitting on Tuesday, August 22, 39 out of the 73 members of the House of Representatives voted to abandon the resolution for a bill of impeachment against the justices.

It followed a joint resolution from the Liberia Council of Churches, the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, and the National Council of Chiefs and Elders calling for the lawmakers to abandon the proceedings.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had called on religious and traditional groups to intervene in the matter involving the lawmakers and officials of the Supreme Court.

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

Three members of the Senate, Dan Morais, Peter Coleman, and Jim Tornola; and Representatives Numene Bartekwa and George Mulbah of the lower house accused 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.

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. Banks and Wolokolie read the rulings on behalf of the court.

Except for 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 it, thus placing a stay order on the proceedings.

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.

It has therefore ordered its clerk to issue writs of summons on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and members of the House of Representatives that authorized the action of the Judiciary Committee to appear before its full bench on Friday, August 18, to defend the constitutionality of their action.

The House of Representatives and its judiciary committee were also ordered to stay all further actions in the petition for impeachment until the court had determined the constitutionality of their actions.

The lawmakers on August 10 voted to reject the writ of prohibition issued by the court. They said the action of the court was an affront to the constitutional authority of the legislature and a violation of the doctrine of the separation of powers.

At the same time, lawmakers threatened to resist interference by any branch of the government in the discharge of their duty, terming the court’s 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.

Featured photo courtesy of David Stanley

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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