MORGANTOWN — West Virginia voters will have the opportunity to vote on four proposed amendments to the state Constitution on November’s ballot.
They are: Clarification of the Judiciary’s Role in Impeachment Proceedings Amendment; Property Tax Modernization Amendment; Incorporation of Churches or Religious Denominations; and Education Accountability Amendment.
We will look at each proposed amendment in a separate story, starting today with Amendment 1.
Amendments are approved by a simple majority vote; a lack of a majority results in the amendment’s rejection.
The amendments are numbered 1-4. The secretary of state’s office explains that when there is more than one proposed amendment on a ballot, state code requires that the proposed amendments be numbered based on the date the Legislature approved the resolution, placing the proposal before the voters.
Amendment 1 was authorized by HJR 2, adopted in April 2021 during the regular legislative session. It passed the House 78-21 and the Senate 23-11, with both votes on party lines.
The amendment’s Summary of Purpose: “Clarifying that courts have no authority or jurisdiction to intercede or intervene in or interfere with impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate; and specifying that a judgment rendered by the Senate following an impeachment trial is not reviewable by any court of this state.”
Explaining HJR 2, Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said in 2021 the resolution stemmed from the 2018 impeachment of members of the state Supreme Court justices and what he called a substitute court’s interference that ended the proceedings.
The court, he said, disregarded the plain language of the Constitution granting the Legislature sole authority over impeachment, and its own prior decisions.
Impeachment proceedings were spurred by reports about lavish renovations of justices’ chambers: The $32,000 couch and $7,500 wooden inlaid floor in Justice Allen Loughry’s office; a $500,000 office renovation and $28,000 rugs in Justice Robin Davis’s office; and a $130,000 upgrade of Justice Beth Walker’s chambers.
Four of the five sitting Justices were impeached: Loughry, Workman, Davis and Walker. Justice Menis Ketchum resigned before he could be impeached.
After the House sent its article of impeachment to the Senate, then-Chief Justice Workman petitioned in September 2018 to have the proceedings against her stopped.
A substitute court sitting in for the impeached justices agreed with Workman in October 2018 and stopped the process. The court said in a 64-page letter that the Legislature violated her due process rights, violated separation of powers and that the House violated its own impeachment rules by failing to set out findings of fact and failing to pass a resolution adopting the 11 articles of impeachment.
The substitute court’s ruling said, “This case is not about whether or not a Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia can or should be impeached; but rather it is about the fact that to do so, it must be done correctly and constitutionally with due process. We are a nation of laws and not of men, and the rule of law must be followed,” the ruling said.
The fill-in court subsequently issued an order essentially saying its previous order throwing out the impeachment case of Workman also applied in the cases of retired Justice Robin Davis and convicted Justice Allen Loughry. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court.
Walker had been acquitted but censured by the state Senate and was selected the new chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
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Amendment 1: Clarification of the Judiciary’s Role in Impeachment Proceedings Amendment
Summary of Purpose: “Clarifying that courts have no authority or jurisdiction to intercede or intervene in or interfere with impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate; and specifying that a judgment rendered by the Senate following an impeachment trial is not reviewable by any court of this state.”
Full Text of the Amendment (New language is in bold italic; the first change is a simple rewording, changing the word “president” to “Chief Justice.”)
§9. Impeachment of officials.
Any officer of the state may be impeached for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, gross immorality, neglect of duty, or any high crime or misdemeanor. The House of Delegates has the sole power of impeachment. The Senate has the sole power to try impeachments and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members elected thereto.
When sitting as a court of impeachment, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals, or, if from any cause it be improper for him or her to act, then any other judge of that court, to be designated by it, shall preside; and the senators shall be on oath or affirmation, to do justice according to law and evidence.
Judgment in cases of impeachment does not extend further than removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit, under the state; but the party convicted remains liable to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment according to law. The Senate may sit during the recess of the Legislature for the trial of impeachments. No court of this state has any authority or jurisdiction, by writ or otherwise, to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate conducted hereunder; nor is any judgment rendered by the Senate following a trial of impeachment reviewable by any court of this state.