Entire West Virginia Supreme Court Faces Impeachment
LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
The West Virginia House of Delegates faces an important decision on Monday, whether to impeach all four justices on the state's Supreme Court.
The judiciary committee already adopted articles of impeachment against the justices, accusing them of, quote, "maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty in certain high crimes and misdemeanors."
If the impeachment articles are approved by the House on Monday, the state's Senate will hold a trial. We wanted to learn more about this, so we called West Virginia Democratic delegate Mike Pushkin. He wrote the original resolution to initiate impeachment proceedings back in February, and he joins us now.
Delegate Pushkin, thanks for joining us.
MIKE PUSHKIN: Thank you for having me on.
SINGH: Can you begin by telling us - what do you expect will happen on Monday?
PUSHKIN: Well, they need a simple majority. So I believe that the majority party should be able to pass or adopt whatever article they choose to. They need 51 votes.
SINGH: So the justices may be removed if that, in fact, happens. If the impeachment process moves forward and they're gone, then there's the process of selecting their replacements. Tell me about that because there's a lot of confusion about how they'll be selected and how much time it'll take to select their replacements.
PUSHKIN: Well, if this goes on past August 14, which is Tuesday - so in all likelihood, the Senate would not be able to finish - it's not going to happen by Tuesday. So then the governor just gets to appoint the replacements, and that's what a lot of us find very troubling.
SINGH: This is complicated, so we should explain. What Delegate Pushkin's saying is that the deadline for a special election where West Virginia voters could choose new Supreme Court justices is on Tuesday.
As Pushkin points out, there's almost no way for the state House and Senate to approve the impeachment process before then, which means that if the Supreme Court justices are impeached, it'll be up to West Virginia Republican Governor Jim Justice to pick their replacements rather than holding a special election where the voters would decide.
Here's Delegate Pushkin again.
PUSHKIN: It seems like a bit more than just a coincidence that here we are running up against a deadline for a special election, which is Tuesday, and after all this time, there were certain weeks where we met two days out of the week, one day out of the week since this process started. So it seems a little bit more than a coincidence that we dragged our feet long enough to pass the deadline. And the deadline is Tuesday. We're meeting Monday.
SINGH: There's nothing wrong - there's nothing illegal about the governor being able to choose the replacements, the new justices. I'm wondering if there is a broader concern about what's happening now diluting the democratic process in West Virginia.
What are you concerned about the long-term impact of the actions that may take place in the coming days?
PUSHKIN: When you're talking about impeachment, you're basically talking about invalidating the statewide vote - the will of the voters - that's what we're talking about invalidating.
And so if you're going to create a situation where the bar is set where we're going to remove people from office for overspending, I think it'd be important to note that under this administration - under the Justice administration in West Virginia - there was the bungling of the flood relief money that came from HUD - 150 million federal dollars did not go to the right place.
There's been a case where an office in northern West Virginia was being rented by the DHHR since 2015 with upwards of a million dollars of taxpayers' money. There's been six figures spent on flowers outside the capital.
Now, would some people consider that overspending and maladministration? They could. So if we're setting the bar that low, my concern is, where exactly does it stop?
SINGH: That's West Virginia Delegate Mike Pushkin.
Delegate Pushkin, thank you for joining us.
PUSHKIN: Thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.