New York high court rules governor has authority to appoint lieutenant governor

[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that Governor David Paterson [official website] has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor, effectively making Richard Ravitch [NYT profile] the state's lieutenant governor. In a 4-3 decision, the court rejected the argument that Paterson had improperly relied on section 43 of the Public Officers Law [text] in making the appointment:

Where, as here, an office may not legally appear on the ballot except quadrennially, and there will be a lengthy period before the next election for the office may be held, plaintiff's reading of the durational limitation at issue would result in an extended vacancy running the balance of an elective term. This appears to be fundamentally incompatible with the main object of article XIII, § 3, expressed unequivocally in its first clause, which, of course, is to assure that vacancies are filled.

That election has been deemed impermissible as a means of filling a mid-term vacancy in the Lieutenant-Governorship does not, however, mean that the vacancy may not be filled. ... Filling the office by gubernatorial appointment is entirely consonant with the purpose of the post-Ward legislative and constitutional amendments, whereas requiring that the office be left vacant risked a scenario of the sort that the Legislature at Governor Dewey's behest sought to avoid - one in which a president pro tem of the Senate, quite possibly of a party other than the Governor, would, while performing the duties of the Lieutenant-Governor during a vacancy in the office, actively oppose the Governor's agenda and frustrate the work of the executive branch.
Tuesday's ruling reversed an August appellate court decision [opinion text; JURIST report] that Paterson acted beyond the scope of his constitutional authority when he appointed Ravitch. That decision had affirmed a lower court ruling that previously blocked the appointment.

Paterson appointed Ravitch [Bloomberg report] on July 8 while the state Senate was embroiled in a power struggle between Democrats and Republicans, but that decision was challenged by New York State Senator Dean Skelos (R) [official website], the Republican leader in the senate. New York had not had a lieutenant governor since former governor Eliot Spitzer resigned [NYT report] amid a prostitution scandal and Paterson became governor. The lieutenant governor serves as Senate president and casts tie-breaking votes.


 

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