Fair Courts Update

There are only two weeks left in the 2020 legislative session and Wednesday is “crossover” day, the last day for bills to be considered in the house of origin. Once this critical deadline passes many of the bills we’ve been watching will be dead. While it is disappointing that bills that advance the goals of the Pro-Democracy didn’t progress, it’s not unusual for the Legislature to forgo consideration of election bills in an election year. On the bright side, crossover day also puts a halt on a number of bad bills that would undermine the independence of the judiciary. 

However, one bill still in play, having passed the Senate well in advance of crossover day, is SB 275, which would create an intermediate court of appeals. West Virginia is one of 10 states without an active intermediate court because our caseloads do not justify the expense. SB 275 would expand state government with an intermediate court that West Virginia does not need. SB 275 is a threat to fair courts supported by out-of-state special interests that want to drag out appeals that would end up in the Supreme Court anyway, to the advantage of parties with greater financial resources. 

As initially proposed, SB 275 would have created the first unelected judges in the history of West Virginia, and allowed Governor Justice to appoint all the members of the ICA. Although the bill was amended so that the judges on the intermediate court will stand for election after their initial appointment, this merely amounts to a court packing scheme of a different sort. We’ve seen first hand the impact big money has had on judicial elections here in West Virginia. Special interest groups spending big bucks on these elections see the Supreme Court as an effective vehicle for furthering their political, ideological, or financial agendas. Why would this new intermediate court be any different? 

During the 2018 general election cycle, independent expenditure political action committees spent more than $5.4 million to influence the outcome of the West Virginia elections according to WV Public Broadcasting. More than $2 million of that total was spent to support the bids of two prominent Republicans who were appointed to the Supreme Court following the resignation of two of the justices. Most of the money was spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a dark money group that receives financial backing from the US Chamber of Commerce, a leading proponent of the intermediate court of appeals. 

Why are powerful, out-of-state special interests are demanding that West Virginia give them an intermediate court that the Mountain State doesn’t need?  To delay justice for West Virginians like you and for our small businesses, property owners, consumers and workers. 

Click here to tell legislators that the money that would be wasted on an unnecessary intermediate court is better spent on things West Virginia needs — road repairs, better schools, job training for workers, broadband access, senior and veterans services, food programs and pantries so no West Virginian is hungry, and more.  We shouldn’t be wasting millions to help out-of-state, corporate special interests to line their pockets at the expense of West Virginia taxpayers.

A public hearing on SB 275 has been requested before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing will be held Thursday, February 27th at 8:30 am in the House Chamber.  Prior to and at public hearing, it is critical that committee members hear from as many people as possible about what is NOT getting adequate funding while millions are being wasted on an intermediate court the state doesn’t need.  Please contact members of the House Judiciary Committee and your delegate(s) today and urge them to vote NO on SB 275! 

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