By Frank Bowman
Jason Hancock, a diligent reporter from the Kansas City Star, alerted me to a Missouri constitutional provision that kicks up even more dust on the question of whether Governor Greitens could be suspended from office following impeachment by the House, but before conviction by the panel of seven “eminent jurists” appointed by the Senate.
Article IV, Section 11(a) of the Missouri constitution states:
On the death, conviction or impeachment, or resignation of the governor, the lieutenant governor shall become governor for the remainder of the term.
Candidly, this language is almost impenetrable.
It says that the Lt. Gov takes over for “the remainder of the term” upon “the death, conviction or impeachment, or resignation of the governor.” But it is entirely unclear about what “conviction or impeachment” means. “Impeachment” could mean just a vote by the House on articles of impeachment, which is usually the technical meaning of that term. But that can’t be right in this context because that would mean that the Lt. Gov. becomes the governor, and stays governor until the end of the term, as soon as the House votes and regardless of what the judges do.
Which leads one to think that the drafters intended “impeachment” in this context to mean completion of the whole process – the House vote and then the “eminent jurist” vote.
But if so, that leaves unexplained the word “conviction” in the odd phrase “conviction or impeachment.” Does conviction here refer solely to the impeachment setting and thus to the verdict of the eminent jurists? That would make logical sense, but it makes no grammatical sense because of the word “or” connecting conviction with impeachment. In other words, one cannot have an impeachment conviction without first having a House impeachment vote, but one can have a separate criminal conviction regardless of whether there is an impeachment proceeding.
In which case, does conviction refer to some kind of conviction independent of an impeachment proceeding? But that makes no sense because the term “conviction” doesn’t seem to have a definition. Presumably, outside of the impeachment context it would have to refer to a criminal conviction. But absent any other qualifier, it would include every kind and degree of criminal conviction from murder to jaywalking. And that can’t be right.
Here’s my best guess: The sensible way to read this is that the governor stays governor until the impeachment process – House vote and judge vote – produces a final result. At which point, if the governor is impeached and convicted, the Lt. Governor takes over as governor for the remainder of the governor’s term. But this sensible reading is not necessarily required by the text.
In addition, as explained in my last post, the governor could be suspended from exercising his official powers in the interval between the House impeachment vote and judicial vote on the articles of impeachment if the “eminent jurists” vote to suspend him. Presumably, the Lt. Governor would take over the powers of governor during the suspension, to return them if the governor were acquitted, but keep them until the end of the governor’s term if the governor were convicted.