WV House Votes to Impeach Four West Virginia Supreme Court Justices; NC GOP Leader Raises Possibility of Impeaching Justices

August 24, 2018

 

 
 
 

STATE COURTS

West Virginia House Votes to Impeach Four West Virginia Supreme Court Justices; Senate Schedules Trial 

Last week, the West Virginia House voted to impeach four West Virginia Supreme Court Justices after questions arose about expensive, state funded office renovations. Ultimately, the accusations in the impeachment articles ranged from transporting expensive state property to a justice’s home, to using state funds on “lavish” renovations, to overpaying senior status judges, to generally failing to adopt policies to avoid such waste. The only justice not impeached resigned prior to the introduction of the articles of impeachment, and one impeached justice resigned after the House vote. 

Some allege the impeachment proceedings may be in part political. According to The Washington Post, some Democrats and advocates have “accused the Republican-led legislature of turning what they said was a legitimate pursuit of charges against [Justice] Loughry into a blatant attempt to take over the court.” Rep. Chad Lovejoy, said, “We’re talking about taking off the head of another co-equal branch.” If the Senate votes to remove the justices after their trials, Republican Gov. Jim Justice will have the power to appoint new justices, who will remain on the court until they must run for reelection in 2020. 

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Senate announced that it will convene on September 11th for the first appearance of the justices impeached by the House. West Virginia’s Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a justice; Republicans currently hold 22 out of 34 Senate seats.

 

STATE COURTS

North Carolina GOP Leader Raises Possibility of Impeaching Justices 

On Tuesday, following a lawsuit by Gov. Roy Cooper, a panel of North Carolina Superior Court judges blocked two constitutional amendments from appearing on statewide ballots as currently drafted. The amendments would substantially transfer power from the governor to the state legislature, including limiting the governor’s ability to select judges to fill judicial vacancies while giving a major role in the process to the legislature. Cooper alleged the amendment ballot language, written by the North Carolina legislature, was misleading. 

Attorneys for legislature had previously indicated they would appeal the decision if they lost.  

Prior to the decision, according to The News & Observer, Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party “raised the possibility that state Supreme Court justices could be impeached if they ruled against legislative leaders” upon appeal of the lawsuit. On social media Woodhouse added, “Should democrats [sic] on the Supreme Court block the people’s right to vote, we will have a constitutional crisis.” 

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin responded, “Threatening or intimidating or expressing potential retaliation for our justices and judges is offensive.” Woodhouse later said that he was not threatening the justices.

 

SUPREME COURT NOMINATION

Confirmation Hearing for Kavanaugh Scheduled; Ad War Picks Up

The Judiciary Committee announced that the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will begin on September 4th, despite an ongoing dispute over document production. With the hearing date announced, television ad spending on the nomination has picked up, reaching over $4.3 million as of August 19th.

Earlier this month, the Brennan Center launched a new SCOTUS nomination spending hub, tracking all digital ad spending in the Kavanaugh fight. View the latest numbers here.

Politico notes that in the ad war, “conservatives are vastly outspending liberals,” and according to an estimate by NARAL-Pro Choice America, conservative groups have “pledged more than $30 million in total spending on behalf of Kavanaugh.” 

The largest spender so far is the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group responsible for nearly 60% of total television spending. JCN has already spent nearly $2.6 million on television ads supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination and has said it will spend “as much as $10 million” on ads. JCN previously spent $17 million to block Merrick Garland’s nomination and support the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. And JCN has worked to leverage its ads, targeting vulnerable senators up for reelection in its ads and, according to Politico, saying “it will pull its ads if those senators announce support for Kavanaugh.”

The next largest spenders are Demand Justice Initiative, which has spent just over $540,000 on ads opposing Kavanaugh, and the National Rifle Association, which has spent over $533,000 supporting Kavanaugh.

 

Sessions Critiques Federal Court Decisions 

Last week, in a speech to the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions critiqued various decisions of federal judges and federal administrative law judges against the Trump administration. 

According to the Sioux City Journal, Sessions criticized federal judges’ rulings against the travel ban and the withholding of grants to sanctuary cities. Sessions argued, “I’m the top lawyer for the executive branch. It’s a co-equal branch. It’s entitled to proper respect from the legislative and the judicial branch, too… [J]udges aren’t sent from Olympus. They are not always correct.” Sessions also criticized federal  judges’ use of nationwide injunctions, which were in place in the cases involving the travel ban and the sanctuary cities.

This is not the first time the Administration has criticized judicial rulings. Earlier this year, Sessions  dismissed unfavorable decisions as smacking of “judicial superiority” and the judges who issued them as merely “activist” judges. And President Trump has long attacked judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with, from calling the judicial system a “laughingstock” to describing a judge as a “so-called judge.”