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Supreme Court upholds Snowe’s transfer

Liberia’s Supreme Court has ruled that there is no law barring sitting Montserrado County District #6 Representative Edwin Snowe from contesting in Sinje District of Bomi County in Western Liberia, outrightly dismissing two similar cases separately filed by two Bomi lawmakers against Mr. Snowe’s political transfer to another county.

Reading the Court’s Opinion on Tuesday, 5 September, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. said the Court cannot ascribe lawmaking to itself, encouraging lawmakers here to consider reviewing the laws if their intent is to restrict serving lawmakers to their constituency which may not allow contesting in different constituencies.

Mr. Snowe’s wife Associate Justice Sie -A – Nyene Yuoh recused herself in the case, and Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh did not sign the judgment on grounds that he had traveled when the matter was being heard. The Chief Justice and Associate Justices Phillip A. Z. Banks, III, and Jamesetta Howard – Wolokolie signed it.

Bomi County Representative Gayah Karmo and Bomi Senator Sando Johnson have separately been challenging Snowe’s candidacy in the county, on grounds that he is violating the law by allegedly abandoning the people of Montserrado County District #6 that elected him to represent them.

The Justices of the Supreme Court ruled that if there is an issue of abandonment, it can be raised by Mr. Snowe’s constituency in Montserrado, and not Rep. Karmo or Sen. Johnson. They say the issue of abandonment after being elected is a serious election offense, and it would have been treated had it been raised by Montserrado District #6.
The Court notes that there is no law that forbids a sitting representative from changing his or her domicile to another district in another county while still serving in the county where he or she was elected.

Following the Court’s decision, defeated anti – Snowe protester Senator Sando Johnson of Bomi County told journalists that he is disappointed at the ruling, saying he doesn’t agree with the justices.

“… I am disappointed at the ruling, I mean … I don’t agree with them, I disagree with them. But this is the final arbiter of justice. Because nowhere else to go so I say I accept it because this is the kind of Supreme Court that we have in Liberia,” Sen. Johnson says. He claims that Liberia’s Supreme Court “can never be like the Supreme Court in Kenya, that I believe in.”

Responding to the Court suggestion for lawmakers to consider reviewing the laws if they want elected lawmakers to be restricted to their constituencies, Sen. Johnson says “we will look at the appropriate provisions in the Constitution, we will make the law from there.”
But Sen. Johnson’s fellow defeated protester, Bomi Rep. Cllr. Gayah Karmo who now stands to face transferred contender Rep. Snowe in Sinje District this October, says no to the suggestion, adding that he considers going to the ballot box because this is election time.
Rep. Snowe declines to comment immediately after the Court’s ruling that comes in his favor.

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Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court indicates that the Constitution and the new elections law did not provide any answer to question as to whether a sitting lawmaker is required to continually domicile in the district in which he or she was elected.

From the review of the matter before the nation’s highest court, it established that Mr. Snowe notified the National Elections Commission (NEC) through communication of his change of domicile since 2016 from Montserrado District #6 to Sinje District, Bomi County.

In the communication, Mr. Snowe informs the NEC that he resides in his new home in Bomi, and he is a taxpayer in his new county as well. Besides, he says he has received several recognition in the county as well as from the President and his rivals.

Since the Constitution and the elections law remain silent on elected lawmaker’s transfer to another constituency to seek elected offices there, the Supreme Court says it has no authority to extrapolate the intent of the law beyond the intent of the framers.
It says had the framers of the law intended for elected representatives to continually domicile in the district in which they were elected, they would have prescribed the laws.

The Court sounds caution that doing so on its own will amount to law making, which is only ascribed to the Legislature. As such, the Justices say they hold that one does not have to be domiciled to vote in a constituency, but one only has to be resident to vote.

The Court says it holds that the ruling of the NEC’s Board of Commissioners dismissing Rep. Karmo and Sen. Johnson’s case against Snowe is confirmed. Earlier, the Court on Tuesday trashed out an appeal filed by rejected Montserrado County District #1 representative aspirant Mr. Amos Sibo, a former consultant to President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s President’s Delivery Unit (PDU) who faces police charges on electoral offenses.

While the Supreme Court did not dwell on the criminal charges levied against Mr. Sibo, it however confirmed the NEC’s decision disqualifying the accused on the basis of not filing his appeal with the Supreme Court against the Commission in time.

The Commission among other things says Mr. Sibo, an independent candidate, did not have district headquarters. He had contended that his failure to file the appeal in time was due to traffic congestion, but the Supreme Court rules that his excuse of traffic congestion is unacceptable.

The NEC’s decision which he appealed against was rendered on 10 August, and Sibo claims to have received the ruling on the 11 of August this year. The Court notes that he had three days to complete filling of papers, which should have been 14 August on grounds that there was Sunday in between. But it finds that the records show that Mr. Sibo submitted his records on 15 August.

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