If you ever thought political calculations should not work every last gear of our state government, and if you were thinking it would be nice to take a vacation from partisan wrangling and have the state’s highest court free of political influence – well, sorry. That’s not the way it works in West Virginia.
In late August, Gov. Jim Justice went off and appointed a pair of Republicans, former House Speaker Tim Armstead and former Congressman Evan Jenkins, to the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals because of their “conservative” values, the governor said.
Nothing like telegraphing to the whole state how the governor, a billionaire whose businesses are often settling matters in court, hopes these two will adjudicate from the bench.
We would have preferred appointees who stood above any appearance of a conflict of interest, who could have presented themselves as credible arbiters of legal disputes. But it takes only a cursory review of the voting records of these two career politicians to know that they come to the court with considerable political baggage – from the far right.
And that is the last thing the state’s Court of Appeals needs.
Most everyone who bothers to pay attention is aware of the hot mess that is the Court of Appeals right now. There are impeachments, resignations, federal charges and accusations that Republicans are trying to stack the court. We did not think it possible, but Gov. Justice just made a bad situation worse.
Forget the will of the people who had balanced the court through previous elections with both Democratic and Republican jurists.
Forget the fact that two years ago this state elected a Democrat, one with a progressive agenda, for governor. It wasn’t all that long ago, Gov. Justice.
Forget, too, that the three governors to serve prior to Justice were all Democrats.
Forget the fact that this state has a big D incumbent running to hold his seat in the U.S. Senate – which he has held since 2010. By every poll we have seen, he is in a strong position to continue his work representing us in D.C.
Forget the notion that the 3rd Congressional District could flip to the Democratic side of the equation in the blue wave headed our way this fall.
Forget the fact that neither Armstead nor Jenkins has served as a court judge at any level and that Jenkins hasn’t practiced as a lawyer in ages – if ever, really.
Forget the fact that Jenkins tried to win a statewide vote in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate – and got whooped and rejected just this year.
And Jenkins, himself, might want us all to forget that he once ran for the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2000 – as a Democrat – and lost. Voters said, no thanks.
We can’t forget that Jenkins enthusiastically voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act that would have left tens of thousands of people in this state without health insurance.
Should we forget that Armstead, in his long, legislative career, voted for work requirements for food stamp recipients and against all sorts of workplace rights for laborers?
Should we ignore the fact that Armstead has practiced the past 17 years as an attorney for Ni-Source, a natural gas and electric company? Given his day job, is it any surprise that he has consistently worked in the Legislature for the interests of the extraction industry?
Because he voted for abortion restrictions and for concealed carry without a permit, because he voted against medical marijuana legislation that passed both chambers of the Legislature, including the House that he ruled, does anyone wonder if Armstead will have to recuse himself if those issues come before the high court?
We don’t begrudge politicians their right to advocate for policy that fits their philosophical profile and differs from ours, but we do have a problem with a compromised governor filling vacancies on the court with politicians who are more likely to legislate from the bench.
This state is deserving of qualified, practiced judges who have shown exemplary judicial temperament. There must be some out there, right Gov. Justice? Did you give it your best shot?
— The Register-Herald