By: E. Geedahgar Garsuah
MONROVIA: Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner, one of Liberia’s well-known legal brains who is also former Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law of the state-owned University of Liberia, has accused the Supreme Court of Liberia, under the leadership of newly appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, H.H. Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh, of perpetuating a culture of breaching the constitution of Liberia.
Cllr. Warner’s criticism stems from the Supreme Court’s recent judgment in which it denied a request by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), that called for a halt to the just-ended Biometrics Voter Registration exercise being conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC) until electoral constituencies are reapportioned.
According to Cllr. Warner, the Supreme Court’s action, leading to the trashing of the CPP’s petition to halt the BVR process, pending the demarcation of constituencies which the National Elections Commission (NEC) failed to undertake is equivalent to aiding and abetting the violation of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
He said the Supreme Court’s support to NEC’s failure to reapportion and demarcate electoral constituencies with the available results of the 2022 National Housing and Population Census amounts to extension of a culture of violation of the Nation’s Constitution, as others have done.
According to Cllr. Warner, while the 2022 National Housing and Population Census is ready, the conduct of the October 10, 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections in the absence of the demarcation of new electoral districts, automatically makes the entire election process undemocratic.
The Supreme Court, in its recent ruling in the case captioned: “The Constitutionality of the National Elections Commission Planned Conduct of the Voters Registration without the Demarcation of the Constitutional Electoral Constituencies” as filed by the CPP, indicated that while the NEC has a constitutional obligation under Article 80 (e) of the 1986 Constitution to demarcate and reapportion constituencies, said obligation has a precondition for implementation.
The Supreme Court also held that the NEC’s responsibility to demarcate electoral constituencies can only be performed upon the precondition that a National Census Reports is concluded, and subsequently presented to the National Legislature to determine the threshold for reapportionment.
The Court added it is the legislature threshold that gives NEC the obligation to demarcate and reapportion electoral constituencies pursuant to Article 80 (e) can be implemented.
But, in his legal opinion to the Supreme Court’s decision on the matter, Cllr. Warner said: “Without attempting a critique of the decisions which cannot be done meaningfully in these short remarks, it has to be noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in each case was formalistic, and not reflective of due regards to the significant constitutional issues raised” by the CPP.
“Having electoral constituencies not based on an equal number of voters as much as practicable is illegal and unconstitutional, irrespective of who is at fault,” he maintained.
He characterized the conduct of the October 10, 2023 elections as unconstitutional on grounds that electoral populations will not be centered on an equivalent number of electorates as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
According to Cllr. Warner, conducting the elections in the absence of demarcating electoral districts also undermined the “One Man, One Vote” principle of democracy.
The legendary lawyer added that the High Court’s ruling has the proclivity to embolden government’s ministries, agencies and commissions (MACs) to exempt themselves from executing their lawful or statutory obligations if a prerequisite to performing such duty has not occurred regardless of the reason for the default in performance.
He said: “It could also encourage the Legislature and other duty-bearers to avoid doing what will trigger implementation of a legal requirement they do not wish to be implemented.”
Cllr. Warner alarmed that the repeated violation of the Constitution has always been presided over by the Supreme Court of Liberia.
He recalled that in 2010 Cllr. Marcus Jones and others petitioned the Supreme Court “to determine whether or not the Legislature can ignore or set aside the results of a national census conducted to determine population growth and movements in Liberia and at the same time apportion seats to counties rather than setting a threshold as mandated by Article 80 (d) of the 1986 Constitution.”
According to Cllr. Warner, even though as crucial and important the matter, during that time was, the High Court trashed the petitioners’ request for declarative judgment under the pretext that the petition was bent on asking a political than legal question.
Cllr. Warner pointed out that the Supreme Court must always apply one of the previously decided cases to see how a remedy could have been fashioned to address the continuing illegality.
“The point is that, we, as a people and particularly lawyers, ought to affirm and protect the constitutional principles of equal protection, equal representation, inclusion, and fairness through liberal construction of the applicable constitutional provisions while rejecting or giving strict interpretation of discriminatory statutes and rules that benefit mainly a few especially those who make such laws and rules,” he pointed out.
Cllr. Warner: “Everyone, particularly for us lawyers, who are presumed to be the gatekeepers of society, a lot depends on our judgment and inputs — our sense of equity, our advocacy for liberal or strict interpretations of law, and our support for sound public policy.”
The principle of one person, one vote is the cornerstone of constitutional representative democracy. It means equal value of every vote such that my vote has the same weight as your one vote.
“It is solely for the purpose of ensuring that every person is entitled to one vote, and that there is equal representation of people in the Legislature that Article 80 (e) provides that every constituency shall have the same population as possible,” Cllr. Warner added.
He urged well-meaning lawyers and legislators to stand up and equitably put up the fight in their various areas of influence in order to ensure constitutional democracy is sustained based on rule of law, inclusion, and equal treatment under the law.
With Cllr. Warner’s hard-hitting criticism of the Liberian Supreme Court’s recent ruling, many keen observers at home and abroad are wondering as to the way Liberia is now heading, especially, under the country’s laws wherein the ruling of the Supreme Court in any matter is Final and cannot be challenged for the purpose of reversing such ruling.