The full House of Delegates will consider legislation requiring a West Virginia Supreme Court justice to win 40 percent of the vote to earn a seat on the bench.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to that effect Wednesday. Hanging over the debate is the fact that two sitting justices who won election just two months ago did so with less than 40 percent of the vote.
In 2018, 10 people ran for the seat now held by Justice Tim Armstead, who won with 26 percent of the vote. Likewise, 10 people ran for the seat now held by Justice Evan Jenkins, who won with 36 percent of the vote.
The legislation, if passed, would kick in for the 2020 elections. If no candidates hit the 40 percent threshold in the May elections, the state would hold a runoff vote in November elections between the two candidates who yielded the highest totals.
The committee passed the bill unanimously by a voice vote without discussion.
The bill is just one the Legislature is considering in the wake of scandals that knocked three justices from their seats on the Supreme Court and prompted two criminal convictions, four impeachments (but no legislative removals from office), several judicial appointments and a special election.
Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, sponsored a resolution that would vest confirmation powers in the Senate over any Supreme Court appointee of the governor. Currently, Justice John Hutchison sits on the court by way of appointment. No committee has taken up the proposal.
In another potential judiciary change, the full House unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that codifies a current Supreme Court rule. That rule says the Supreme Court must issue a written decision as to why it declines to take up a case.
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, voted for the bill. However, in light of the state Supreme Court halting impeachment proceedings with a writ of prohibition in one of the cases setting a precedent, McGeehan questioned whether the bill could withstand judicial scrutiny.
“We should all be worried, we should all be concerned what that ruling from that acting Supreme Court effectively did,” he said.