Parson, a Republican, was serving his first term as lieutenant governor when former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned last June. He quickly picked Kehoe, a state senator, to take over as lieutenant governor.
In a 5-2 decision released Monday, the court determined Parson acted within his authority when he appointed Kehoe.
“The constitution is clear, the governor may fill all vacancies in public offices unless the law provides an alternative method,” Chief Justice Zel Fischer wrote for the majority.
The Missouri Constitution lays out the duties of lieutenant governor, which mainly involve sitting on a few boards and presiding over and casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. If the governor’s office is left vacant, the lieutenant governor is next in line.
But the Constitution does not address how a lieutenant governor should be replaced if a vacancy occurs.
The Constitution says the governor shall fill all vacancies in public office “unless otherwise provided by law,” and those appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected.
But a section of Missouri law seems to carve out the lieutenant governor from that provision, saying the governor can fill all vacancies “other than in the offices of lieutenant governor, state senator or representative, sheriff, or recorder of deeds in the city of St. Louis.”
In their lawsuit, Democrats pointed to that exclusion in arguing Kehoe’s appointment was unconstitutional.
Judge George Draper III agreed with the Democrats’ argument, writing in his dissent that the plain words of the constitution and relevant statute when read together mean the governor may not fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor, and thus, the office should remain vacant until filled by election.
“I would give the words in the constitution their plain and ordinary meaning,” Draper wrote.