By Frank Bowman
If one is going to offer oneself as an “expert” on stuff to the press, one has to be ready for the inevitable humbling moments when one’s off-the-cuff opinions prove wrong. The other day, the Columbia Missourian interviewed me about impeachment procedure in Missouri, and I suggested that, if Governor Greitens were convicted of a felony in St. Louis, then RSMo 561.021, which disqualifies any elected official from office if convicted of a felony, would require Gov. Greitens’ immediate removal from office without the necessity of an impeachment proceeding.
A better-informed reader of the Missourian wrote in to say, politely, that I was talking through my hat. Rather, the reader pointed out, several Missouri cases have held that, in the case of statewide offices which are created by the constitution and for which the constitutionally prescribed means of removal is impeachment, the legislature may not prescribe some other removal procedure. For those interested, the main cases are State Ex Inf. Attorney-General v. Brunk, 34 S.W.2d 94 (Mo. 1930) and State ex Inf. Nixon v. Moriarty, 893 S.W.2d 806 (1995).
Had I been thinking more clearly before succumbing to the pleasures of bloviation, I would have realized that the federal constitutional principle that permits removal of “the President, Vice President and all civil officers” only upon impeachment should apply equally in the states. Missouri differs from the federal situation in that Missouri has a statute that purports to disqualify all elected officials who suffer a felony conviction. But the principle that has forestalled Congress from attempting to pass felony disqualification laws or other removal shortcuts for federal officeholders is the same in both the federal and state situation. The basic idea is that, if the fundamental law of a nation or state provides an exclusive means of removing the holders of major offices, then the legislature cannot create a shortcut to that end through enactment of a mere statute.
So, with thanks to the Missourian‘s astute reader, I stand corrected. If Governor Greitens is to be removed, it will be through impeachment, even if he is first convicted of a felony in St. Louis.