JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s high court is mulling whether or not the state’s second-highest office holder was properly appointed. But, as with a lower court’s ruling, the decision may come down to who the right parties are to bring the legal challenge.
One day after the 2018 midterm elections, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Missouri Democratic Party and World War II veteran Darrell Cope’s lawsuit challenging Gov. Mike Parson’s authority to appoint then-Sen. Mike Kehoe to lieutenant governor.
The situation arose when Parson, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, stepped up to succeed then-Gov. Eric Greitens. Greitens resigned from office on June 1, 2018, following several turbulent months rocked with scandal, and Parson was sworn in as governor on that same day.
Parson filled the vacant office of lieutenant governor on June 18, 2018, by appointing the then-Senate Majority Leader to the post. The move was challenged in court the next day.
The case was dismissed by a Cole County judge. However, the appellants appealed and brought it to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers representing both sides debated the issue before the full Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.
Matthew Vianello, the plaintiff’s attorney, is asking the high court for a declaratory judgment on the authority of the Governor to appoint his successor. His interpretation of the state’s constitution and statutes concludes it is not within Missouri’s chief executive officers power.
The attorney for the state, John Sauer, argued that the constitution gives the Governor the authority and that the law provides no other remedy for filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s post.
Yet, the case may come down to standing.
Cope is claiming standing as a taxpayer. Sauer argued that just being a taxpayer wasn’t enough in this case — particular for the type of relief being sought.
In July, Cole County Judge Jon Beetem issued a nine-page ruling stating that the plaintiffs lacked the authority to remove the lieutenant governor by litigation. He also stated in the opinion that Parson was within his authority in making the appointment.
The Supreme Court has not yet made a final decision.