MONTPELIER, Vt. (CN) — On his last day in office Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin learned that the Vermont Supreme Court will not let him appoint a justice to fill a state supreme court seat that will not become vacant until April 1.
Shumlin, a three-term Democrat whose term ended Thursday, sought to appoint a successor to Associate Justice John Dooley, who will retire on April 1.
Shumlin did not seek re-election in November, and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, was elected to succeed him.
House Minority Leader Donald Turner Jr. and state Senate Minority Leader Joseph Benning sued Shumlin after he vowed, as governor, to nominate a replacement for Dooley.
As Shumlin left office Thursday, the Vermont Supreme Court said he’d overstepped his authority.
“Petitioners contend that respondent has no authority to appoint a successor to Justice Dooley, who has indicated that he will not be seeking retention for another term beyond his current term, which expires on April 1, 2017, months after respondent leaves office,” the court ruled. “We agree.”
The Vermont Constitution calls for the Judicial Nominating Board to submit a list of qualified candidates to the governor. After the governor chooses an appointee, he or she must be approved by the state Senate.
Both houses of the Vermont General Assembly are controlled by Democrats.
Shumlin said he had received a list of six candidates from the nominating board, and was constitutionally authorized to nominate one.
The supreme court disagreed.
“We conclude that the Vermont Constitution does not authorize respondent to appoint an Associate Justice of this Court in anticipation of a vacancy that is not expected to occur until the expiration of the justice’s term of office, which will occur months after respondent leaves office,” the five members of the court ruled.
Shumlin could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for Gov. Scott declined comment.