U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear West Virginia Impeachment Challenge

Oct 7, 2019

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a case involving the 2018 impeachment of West Virginia Supreme Court justices. State lawmakers petitioned the nation’s highest court for a review after a ruling by an ad hoc bench of the state Supreme Court halted impeachment proceedings in October 2018.

The nation’s highest court met in private Thursday, Oct. 1, to make decisions about which cases they will and will not take up in its current term, which began Monday, Oct. 7.  Justices labeled the case “certiorari denied” and offered no additional comment or reason for not hearing the case.

The West Virginia House of Delegates impeached four of the state’s five justices last year following an investigation into lavish spending on office renovations and other alleged misdeeds. 

Justice Beth Walker stood trial and was found not guilty on one count of maladministration. But, the other trials in the state Senate were tossed after one justice challenged her own impeachment. 

As the trial of then-Chief Justice Margaret Workman was about kick off, Workman argued that the impeachments violated the separation of powers doctrine in the West Virginia Constitution.   

With impeached and newly appointed justices unable to hear the case, an ad hoc bench heard Workman’s challenge to her own impeachment. The temporary justices ruled that lawmakers overstepped their bounds and that the House was flawed in its procedure. 

The West Virginia Supreme Court ruling on Workman's challenge also stopped impeachment trials against two other justices who have since left the court. Robin Davis announced her retirement one day after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Allen Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court. 

In a Monday statement, Workman expressed relief that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decided not to hear the case. 

“I am gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld my position by refusing to hear the appeal of the dismissal of the impeachment articles filed against me,” Workman said. “With this order from the nation’s highest Court, we can finally rest knowing that the impeachment proceeding that consumed so much time and energy last year is over.” 

West Virginia lawmakers had argued that the ruling by the ad hoc bench sets a dangerous precedent in allowing state Supreme Court justices to intervene in their own impeachments. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said at the time he believed the ruling would do “irreparable and lasting damage to the constitutional system of government that's laid out in our state constitution.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, expressed disappointment -- but a sense of understanding as to why -- the U.S. Supreme Court would not take up the case. 

“Although we are deeply disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear our appeal, we always knew it was a long shot due to the Supreme Court taking up so few cases per year,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Monday. “On average, about 7,000 cases are petitioned for certiorari each year, and only 100 to 150 petitions are granted. Though we will not get our day before the nation’s highest court, we will continue to look for ways to right the wrong we believe the appointed state Supreme Court committed during the impeachment process.”

Hanshaw echoed Carmichael's sentiments in a statement released Monday.

“We still firmly believe last year’s decision was deeply flawed, went far beyond the scope of what the Court was asked to consider and establishes a precedent that could have significant unintended effects on the legislative branch in the years to come," Hanshaw said. "While we have exhausted our avenues of appeal in the court system, we will continue to consider other options to restore and clarify the proper powers guaranteed to each branch of government, including a potential constitutional amendment to expressly clarify each branch of government’s powers with regard to impeachments going forward.”

Legislative leaders had said previously they were not hoping to restart impeachment proceedings but to correct legal errors in the state court’s decision.