How states allocate power among their branches of government isn’t an issue for the Supreme Court of the United States, attorneys for West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman argue in a court brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Workman’s attorneys on Friday filed the brief with the nation’s highest court as part of the appeals regarding the 2018 impeachment of justices serving on the West Virginia Supreme Court.
In the brief, Workman’s attorneys argue the appeals don’t warrant review from the U.S. Supreme Court because the federal court previously has ruled that the distribution of power within state governments was a matter for the individual states and not the federal government.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in April, requested Workman’s attorney, Marc Williams, file a response to appeals from the West Virginia Senate and the state House of Delegates even though Workman, through her attorneys, initially declined to file a response.
Williams is joined in the brief by Melissa Foster Bird and Thomas M. Hancock. All three attorneys practice with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, in Huntington.
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 delayed its consideration.
A new conference date had not been posted in the appeals files as of Tuesday.
In the brief filed with the U.S. Court, Williams said Workman’s impeachment, court challenge and the court ruling therein all rest within the authority of West Virginia law and the state’s Constitution. He notes previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings hold that the way power is distributed within a state is “a question for the state itself.”
Workman’s case was not about whether state Supreme Court justices can or should be impeached, Williams said. Instead, the case was one showing that the impeachment process must be carried out “correctly and constitutionally and with due process.”
“Although the decision below was rendered in the extraordinary circumstance of an impeachment proceeding, it was a normal exercise of the West Virginia judicial branch’s power,” Williams said in his brief. “The state courts are tasked, after all, with interpreting their respective state’s constitution. Despite this, [the House and Senate] distort the decision below as a constitutional crisis and assert that it sets the judicial branch up as its own judge.”
Williams also argues the U.S. Supreme Court should deny hearing the West Virginia House’s appeal because the House was not part of the court proceedings in the original case at the state level.
In January, the West Virginia 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.
In their appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, both the state House and Senate did not state whether they believe Workman committed the offenses for which she was impeached.
Instead, they argue impeachment proceedings only should be affected by the Legislature, saying 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 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 Supreme Court, were in violation of the constitutional provisions of separation of power and Workman’s right to due process.
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.
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.