AUGUST 21, 2009
New York’s governor violated the state’s constitution when he appointed a friend as lieutenant governor last month, according to an appeals court ruling that dealt the embattled Democrat yet another blow.
Although lieutenant governors can only be elected by voters in the Empire State, Governor David Paterson disregarded the law and appointed his buddy in July while the state’s government was essentially paralyzed by a power struggle in which both major parties claimed to control the Senate.
Paterson, who became governor after a hooker scandal forced Eliot Spitzer out in 2008, insisted he had the authority to appoint a lieutenant even though the state’s attorney general warned that the move was unconstitutional. Paterson disregarded the advice, citing a bogus provision in a state law that he claims allows governors to fill vacant offices until the next election.
A Nassau County Judge prevented the illegally appointed lieutenant (Richard Ravitch) from taking office but allowed Paterson to take his case to the state’s Court of Appeals. This week a four-justice panel spanked Paterson, unanimously ruling that he “simply does not have the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.”
The nine-page decision goes on to say that Paterson’s appointment of Ravitch was unlawful because no provision of the Constitution or any statute provides for the filling of a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor other than by election. There’s a great reason for that. The lieutenant governor wields tremendous power, presiding over the Senate, casting tie-breaking votes and filling in when the governor is out of state or unable to fulfill his duties.
A local newspaper editorial applauds the court’s decision, saying it rejected Paterson’s irresponsible attempt to rewrite the state’s constitution. It also took a jab at the governor by reminding him that he wasn’t elected either but rather elevated from lieutenant governor when the Spitzer hooker scandal broke.
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