New York Governor David A. Paterson has the constitutional power to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor, the state Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 Tuesday, marking a stunning turnaround from the rulings of two lower courts.

“While there can be no quarrel with the proposition that, generally, election must be the preferred means of filling vacancies in the elective office, it does not follow that the elective principle is preeminent when it comes to filling a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant-Governor,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote for the majority in Skelos v. Paterson, 183.

By contrast, Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. wrote for the dissenters that the ruling opened the possibility that “citizens of this State will one day find themselves governed by a person who has never been subjected to scrutiny by the electorate” should an appointed lieutenant governor succeed to the governor’s post.

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