We, members of the Collaborating Parties (the Unity Party, Liberty Party and Alternative National Congress), have watched with grave concern efforts in the Legislature to impeach Supreme Court Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh. For the reasons set forth below, we believe these efforts led by members of the ruling party are wrong as a matter of constitutional law and misguided as a matter of public policy.
The present an unbridled attempt to intimidate and silence members of an independent branch of government (the Judiciary) and thus violate basic principles of separation of powers which undergird our constitutional order. Additionally, they serve as an unnecessary shock to the body politic, create an air of political instability, and foster national disunity and discord, none of which augurs well for our young democracy or for instilling investors’ confidence in our struggling economy. They should therefore be firmly rejected by all well-meaning Liberians.
Our Constitution provides for impeachment of public officials as an important tool for promoting accountable and good
governance. But as with any power, the power to impeach must be used wisely and responsibly. It must be exercised only in the interest of the entire nation, rather than for mere partisan advantage. Accordingly, our Constitution sets a rather exacting standard for impeaching and removing Supreme Court Justices from office. It expressly provides in Article 71 that Supreme Court Justices may be impeached and removed from office only for “proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”
Sadly, the articles of impeachment against Justice Ja’neh do not meet this exacting standard. Nothing in the articles shows that Justice Ja’neh has been convicted by a court of law for “treason, bribery or other infamous crimes” as to warrant his impeachment and removal from office. Similarly, the articles set forth no “proved misconduct or “gross breach of duty” by Justice Ja’neh, or his “inability to perform the functions” of his office.
Instead, the articles of impeachment assert, among other things, that Justice Ja’neh erred by granting a writ of certiorari in favor of a party to a dispute that came before him while he served as the Supreme Court’s Justice in Chambers. Whether or not one agrees with the decision of Justice Ja’neh to grant a writ of certiorari in that matter, his decision to do so simply cannot provide a basis for his impeachment because Article 73 of our Constitution expressly forbids impeaching and removing Supreme Court Justices because of their “judicial opinions” or “judicial acts.” The wisdom of this provision of our Constitution should be clear to all. If judges or justices could be removed from office because of their opinions, then their rulings and decisions would not be based on their honest understanding or interpretation of the law. Rather, afraid of being removed from office because of their opinions, they will issue opinions that please members of the Legislature, even if they know these decisions are not based on an accurate interpretation of the law. Here, Justice Ja’neh’s decision to grant a writ certiorari clearly constitutes a “judicial opinion,” or a “judicial act within the meaning of Article 73. Accordingly, it cannot provide a constitutional basis for his impeachment.
Similarly, the other grounds asserted in the articles provide no constitutional basis for impeachment. They are a hodgepodge of unproven allegations, some of them regarding what amounts to a private land dispute between parties that should be resolved through the courts rather than by impeachment, with the Legislature effectively taking the side of one party to the dispute.
In addition to being wrong as a matter of constitutional law, the attempts to impeach Justice Ja’neh, as we have stated above, is also misguided as a matter of public policy because they serve to divide us as a nation; signal to the world that we do not have political house in order; and detract attention from the crucial need to tackle the range of development challenges we face as a nation.
And it needs not be this way. We expected that fresh from winning the recent elections, the new government would had focused truly on bringing Liberians together, rallying all of us around a well-thought through development agenda. Instead, we have seen the government do precisely the opposite. Going against the structure, design, and plain language of the Constitution, they seem ready to impose on Liberia a tyranny of the majority. Their calculation seems to simply be that because they may have the votes in the Legislature to remove an official of government from office, they can remove that official whether or not the constitutional prerequisites for doing so are met. This is not a prudent exercise of the Legislature’s impeachment powers. It amounts to a naked power grab, an audacious attempt to silence and intimidate a separate and independent branch of government in violation of basic separation of powers principles.
This is therefore more than just the impeachment of a Justice Ja’neh, because if they can succeed at removing Justice Ja’neh on the flimsy grounds asserted in the articles of impeachment, then we must ask ourselves “who is next?’ What other judge or Supreme Court Justice they may seek to remove just because of disagreement with his or her judicial opinions? What other officials of government they may also seek to remove from office by impeachment simply because they disagree with his or her policy views? There simply will be no stopping them from the most whimsical and baseless exercise of the powers to impeach. Our history teaches us that we head down a dangerous path of political instability and chaos when there is such abuse of political power by a ruling party.
It is for all of these reasons that we now call on members of the Senate to vote against the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh. The Senate must send a clear message that it will not sanction a misuse of the Legislature’s impeachment powers. We equally call on all Liberians to register with their senators and representatives the strongest of opposition to the unconstitutional attempt to remove Justice Ja’neh from office.
We also call on those leading the impeachment efforts in the Legislature to resist using their impeachment powers to settle political scores, or to teach a lesson. Rather, they should seriously engage the opposition on how we can formulate and implement a sound strategy for ending the poverty that afflicts many of our people and work to create broadly shared prosperity and security for all Liberians.