Before the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take up appeals from the West Virginia Legislature regarding last year’s impeachment of West Virginia Supreme Court justices, the federal court wants to hear from state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman and her attorney.
Workman initially waived her right to respond to the petitions filed by the West Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate, but the nation’s highest court asked Workman’s attorney, Marc Williams, to file a response to the petitions last month.
On Monday, Williams said he didn’t know if the request guaranteed that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case, but he said it was a sign justices were paying attention to the issue at hand.
“I think we can fairly assume that they think it is an important issue,” said Williams, managing partner of the Huntington office of Nelson Mullins. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to review it. They still review less than 3 percent of all petitions filed, but I think they want to hear what we have to say about it.”
In January, the House of Delegates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its challenge to the state court’s ruling and decide if the state Supreme Court, composed of justices on temporary assignment, overstepped the bounds of the separation of powers in October 2018.
The state Senate filed a similar petition in March.
The U.S. Supreme Court originally scheduled to consider the state Senate and House appeals during its conference on May 9. But after asking Workman for a response, the court has delayed its consideration.
In their appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, both the state House and Senate did not state whether they believe Workman is guilty or innocent of the offenses for which she was impeached.
Instead, they argue that the impeachment proceedings only should be affected by the Legislature: The House has the authority to impeach officials, while the Senate has the authority to have trials based on offenses named in the House’s articles of impeachment.
Attorneys for the House called the state court’s ruling “a continuing danger” that “eviscerated an important constitutional check.”
“The court flagrantly invaded the province of a co-equal branch of government and largely insulated the judiciary — in this and future cases — from the essential check that impeachment provides in a republican system,” Lindsay See, West Virginia solicitor general wrote on behalf of the Senate.
Workman caseThe appeals are challenging a West Virginia Supreme Court ruling from October 2018.
The state court on Oct. 11, issued a writ of prohibition, declaring impeachment proceedings against Workman, then chief justice of the state court, were in violation of the constitutional provisions of separation of power and Workman’s right to due process.
The court handed down its ruling four days before Workman’s impeachment trial was set to begin in the state Senate.
In ruling in Workman’s favor, the court invalidated all four articles of impeachment against Workman and established a precedent that effectively invalidated articles of impeachment against former justices Robin Davis and Allen Loughry.
The court handed down its ruling after current Chief Justice Beth Walker stood trial in the Senate. On Oct. 2, the Senate voted to publicly censure Walker and declined to remove her from office.
In her appeal to the state Supreme Court, Workman had argued the articles of impeachment against her violated the separation of powers in government clause in the state constitution and that her due process has been denied in the proceedings.
She also said members of the House of Delegates never formally adopted the resolution that contained the articles of impeachment against her and the other current and former justices.
On Aug. 13, members of the House voted to divide the question for the resolution, meaning the delegates would consider each article of impeachment on an individual basis instead of voting on them all at once in the single resolution.
The West Virginia House of Delegates on Aug. 13, 2018, adopted 11 articles of impeachment against Workman, Davis, Loughry and current Chief Justice Beth Walker, who became chief justice on Jan. 1, 2019.
Workman was chief justice of the state Supreme Court at the time of the impeachment proceedings. She appointed a temporary chief justice for the case and ordered him to appoint five justices to consider the matter.
Harrison Circuit Judge James Matish acted as chief justice in Workman’s case.
Matish appointed Hancock Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, McDowell Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky II and Upshur Circuit Judge Jacob Reger to preside on the court for the duration of Workman’s case.
In the decision that halted impeachment proceedings, Bloom and Reger concurred in part and dissented in part with the decision.
Bloom and Reger said while they agreed with the majority of the court in finding that the House committed an error in adopting the articles of impeachment, it was not the Supreme Court’s place to correct the error under the state’s separation of powers clause.
That responsibility, the two temporary justices said, belonged to the legislature.
With the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the Senate declined to further pursue impeachment proceedings without intervention from federal court.
In a statement Monday, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General state said the office stands by its client.
“Our office stands by our client, the West Virginia Senate, in its petition for review of the October 2018 state ruling, which the Senate’s petition described as inconsistent with the separation of powers guaranteed to each state within the U.S. Constitution,” Curtis Johnson wrote. “We join our client in looking forward to final resolution of the case.”
Senate President Mitch Carmicheal said in a statement Monday “We are very encouraged that there appears to be some interest by the Supreme Court in this case.”