CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice has named House Speaker Tim Armstead and Congressman Evan Jenkins, both Republicans, to two Supreme Court seats that opened after almost a year of controversy.
The announcements were made Saturday morning in the Governor’s Office, as family and political supporters of the two observed. There is a 20-day period under state law before Armstead and Jenkins would take the oath of office.
“We need true conservatives — this is really important — with honor and integrity to restore the trust from the blow to the stomach we’ve suffered in the last few months,” said Gov. Justice, who announced appointments and then left.
The appointments would last through the General Election, which is Nov. 6. At that point, voters will pick who should fill the vacancies on the Supreme Court.
Justice made a point of saying he wanted to appoint people who would want to run again. He said he would like a chance of maintaining continuity, considering the tumult the court has gone through as each of its members faced indictment or impeachment.
Armstead and Jenkins are among the 20 candidates running for the two seats.
For now, Armstead will fill a seat vacated by Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned right before impeachment proceedings began in the House of Delegates. Ketchum pleaded guilty last week to federal charges related to using a state vehicle and a state-issued card for his travel to out-of-state golf outings.
Jenkins will fill a seat vacated by Justice Robin Davis, who resigned after being named in articles of impeachment in the House of Delegates. Jenkins ran against Davis for the court in 2000.
Davis resigned after being named in articles dealing with her $500,000 office renovation, accusations that she had played a role in the unlawful overpayment of senior status judges and a maladministration claim that she and other justices failed to hold each other accountable.
She blasted the impeachment process that led to her abrupt retirement.
“The majority have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court,” Davis said. “They have erased the lines of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences.”
Armstead, who resigned this past week from the House of Delegates to pursue the Supreme Court seat, recused himself from overseeing the impeachment proceedings but was told to vote in his role as a delegate on the articles.
Speaking to reporters after his appointment, Armstead said he is comfortable accepting the appointment, despite the controversial context.
“I think I have taken every step possible to ensure the integrity of the process as we went through the legislative process,” he said.
“I’m looking at the future, restoring the confidence in the court. I think that’s what our goal needs to be, is to make sure we look at the ways we can assure the people of our state that we’re going to apply the rule of law, that we’re going to have integrity.”
Jenkins said he will resign from Congress when he takes the bench. He emphasized that the office for the Third Congressional District will remain open. He was not returning to office because he opted to run last spring for U.S. Senate, losing in the Republican primary.
Each new justice described receiving a call Friday evening, strongly suggesting they should be at the Governor’s Office on Saturday morning.
“Very humbling and very exciting and very optimistic about the future,” Jenkins said. “A lot of work to be done restoring the trust and confidence in our state’s highest court.
“I have pledged very clearly to the West Virginia people to make every decision impartial, follow the rule of law, follow our Constitution. But there is another aspect at this unique point in time that we find ourselves as a state, where our confidence and our trust in our highest court has been rocked at its very core. So one of my responsibilities and obligations is to, from Day 1, work to restore the public’s confidence.”
Brad McElhinny is the statewide correspondent for WVMetroNews.com. Follow him @BradMcElhinny or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.