JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to appoint Missouri’s number two position has been permanently dismissed by a Cole County judge.
In his decision, Circuit Judge Jon Beetem stated that the governor has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor under the Missouri Constitution. The Democratic attempt to oust Mike Kehoe from his new job also failed on the grounds that they lack standing to bring the lawsuit.
“Under Missouri law, a private plaintiff lacks authority to seek the removal of a public official through litigation,” wrote Beetem.
At issue is now-Gov. Mike Parson’s appointment of Kehoe to the position of lieutenant governor. The job was left vacant when Parson stepped up to lead the Show-Me State following the resignation of Eric Greitens as Missouri’s governor.
On June 18, 2018, Parson appointed the former-Senate majority floor leader to fill the vacant position. A move was challenged in court within hours.
The Missouri Democratic Party, along with Darrell Cope, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to send the issue to the voters claiming the governor doesn’t have the authority to appoint a person to lieutenant governor.
The lawsuit wasn’t the first time the issue has come up, and many viewed the Missouri Constitution as murky on the matter.
In his nine-page decision, Beetem attempted to settle the dispute and add some clarity to the matter.
“The Court concludes that Governor Parson had authority to appoint Michael Kehoe as Lieutenant Governor under the Missouri Constitution,” the decision states.
Beetem specifically cites Article IV of the Missouri Constitution in his decision, which states, “The governor shall fill all vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law, and his appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected or appointed and qualified.”
The plaintiffs in the case argued that Article VII provides that “…the appointment of all officers shall be made as prescribed by law” and that Missouri statute authorizes the Governor to fill vacancies in certain offices, while explicitly excluding the office of Lieutenant Governor from that authorization.
“Given the importance of the office of Lieutenant Governor, this Court is reluctant to adopt an interpretation of Missouri law that would generate such an unreasonable and anomalous result,” Beetem wrote.
Beyond clarifying the law, Beetem said that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the lawsuit stating that once Kehoe was sworn into office he can only be removed by impeachment or through the intervention of the attorney general’s office.
Beetem also scoffed at the attempt by the Missouri Democratic Party to gain standing by asserting that Kehoe might run for the office in 2020, making it harder for a Democratic candidate to get elected.
“This allegation is conjectural, hypothetical, and speculative. It is entirely unknown and unknowable whether Lieutenant Governor Kehoe will decide to run for the office of Lieutenant Governor in 2020; whether he will prevail in the Republican primary if he does run; which Democratic candidates, if any, might run against him; and whether his incumbency would provide any material advantage in the election if he does run and win the primary. This allegation piles speculation upon conjecture. It is too speculative and hypothetical to support standing. No injury in fact can arise simply from incumbency,” said Beetem.
Parson applauded the lawsuits dismissal, stating, “This affirms our position as well as the position of previous Governors from both parties. We look forward to continuing our work with Lieutenant Governor Kehoe and also commend the work of Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office in effectively arguing the merits of this case on an important constitutional issue.”
The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, which prevents the plaintiffs from refiling. However, they can still file an appeal.
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.