The Missouri Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for next Wednesday in Jefferson City in the case involving whether Republican Governor Mike Parson has authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.
Mike Parson took the oath of office as governor on June 1, and appointed Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, as lieutenant governor on June 18. The Missouri Democratic Party and World War II veteran Darrell Cope of southwest Missouri’s Hartville filed a lawsuit the next day. Cope says he earned the right to vote for lieutenant governor, as a combat veteran.
The Missouri Constitution doesn’t specifically address how the lieutenant governor should be replaced when there’s a vacancy.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem heard 55 minutes of arguments from both sides, during a July hearing at the Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City.
Missouri First Assistant Attorney General D. John Sauer says Governor Parson had clear authority under Article 4 Section 4 of the state Constitution to appoint Kehoe.
“It is a valid appointment, there is no basis for the court to conclude otherwise,” Sauer told Judge Beetem in July.
During that July hearing, Missouri Democratic Party attorney Matthew Vianello wanted Judge Beetem to issue a ruling which says the governor cannot appoint a lieutenant governor, when the lieutenant governor position is vacant.
Vianello said the governor does not have authority to appoint a lieutenant governor, citing Missouri Supreme Court cases from 1912 and 1977.
“I think that those cases support the position that we’re taking, which is that the Constitution and Missouri statute does not provide for anybody to fill the office of lieutenant governor if there’s a vacancy,” Vianello told reporters that day on a sidewalk outside the Cole County Courthouse.
Judge Beetem issued a nine-page ruling in July, which said the plaintiffs in this case lack authority to remove the lieutenant governor by litigation. The plaintiffs again are Mr. Cope and the Missouri Democratic Party.
The judge ruled that Governor Parson had authority to appoint Kehoe under the Missouri Constitution.
The Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on November 7 at 9:30 a.m.
Sauer and Vianello will argue the case before the Supreme Court. Both men have filed briefs with the Supreme Court outlining their case. Much of it reiterates what they said in court in July.
Sauer writes that the lieutenant governor “plays a critical role in the government of Missouri and constitutes an important representative of numerous public interests.” Sauer’s brief notes the lieutenant governor serves as the ex officio president of the Senate, and is first in the order of succession to replace the governor.
Sauer also writes that four former governors, Republicans Kit Bond, and Matt Blunt and Democrats Jay Nixon and Bob Holden, have made statements “agreeing that Governor Parson has authority to fill a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor.”
Vianello’s brief says the Cole County Circuit Court erred in the case and says that Governor Parson was not authorized to fill a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor.
Vianello’s court filing also lists several Missouri cases where the Missouri Lieutenant Governor’s office was vacant.
He writes that Lieutenant Governor Joseph Gravely died in office in April 1872 and that the office remained vacant until Lt. Governor Charles Johnson was elected in 1872.
Vianello also writes that Lieutenant Governor John Lee resigned in 1903, and that the Senate President Pro Tem assumed the duties of the office until Lt. Governor John McKinley was inaugurated in 1905.
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