State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, No. 58393

CourtMissouri Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFINCH; All the judges concur except DONNELLY; DONNELLY; PER CURIAM
Citation507 S.W.2d 405
PartiesSTATE of Missouri ex inf. John C. DANFORTH, Attorney General, Relator, William C. Phelps, Lieutenant Governor, Intervenor-Relator, v. William J. CASON, President Pro Tempore of the Missouri Senate, Respondent.
Decision Date30 November 1973
Docket NumberNo. 58393

Page 405

507 S.W.2d 405
STATE of Missouri ex inf. John C. DANFORTH, Attorney General, Relator,
William C. Phelps, Lieutenant Governor, Intervenor-Relator,
v.
William J. CASON, President Pro Tempore of the Missouri
Senate, Respondent.
No. 58393.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
Nov. 30, 1973.
Dissenting Opinion Dec. 12, 1973.
On Motion for Clarification, April 8, 1974.

Page 406

John C. Danforth, Atty. Gen., D. Brook Bartlett, First Asst. Atty. Gen., C. B. Burns, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Richard E. Vodra, Richard S. Brownlee III, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, for relator.

William H. Leedy, Kansas City, David Collins, Macon, for intervenor-relator.

Ronald R. McMillin, Cullen Coil, Jefferson City, for respondent.

Page 407

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN QUO WARRANTO

FINCH, Judge.

On June 15, 1973, the last day of the First Session of the 77th General Assembly of Missouri, Lieutenant Governor William C. Phelps, in his capacity as ex officio President of the Missouri Senate, presided over its morning session. After the noon recess, Senator William J. Cason, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, acting pursuant to Senate Rule 11, 1 assumed the chair and refused to permit Lieutenant Governor Phelps to resume the position of presiding officer of the Senate, even though, as stipulated by the parties hereto, 'Lieutenant Governor Phelps intended to and was available and able to preside over the Missouri Senate during the remainder of that day's session.' Either Senator Cason or his designee thereafter presided over the Senate until its adjournment at midnight on June 15, 1973.

The ultimate question for decision herein is the constitutionality of Rule 11. The answer to that question depends on whether Art. IV, § 10, 2 which provides for a lieutenant governor who shall be ex officio president of the senate, confers on the lieutenant governor the right to preside over the senate, or whether Art. III, § 18, 3 which authorizes each house of the legislature to adopt rules for its own proceedings, confers on the senate the right, by rule, to provide that its president pro tempore may assume the chair at will and thereby displace the lieutenant governor as presiding officer of the senate. The parties agree that the only issue to be decided is the right of the lieutenant governor to preside, and that this case does not involve a determination of the powers the lieutenant governor would have as presiding officer if it be determined that he does have the right to serve as presiding officer of the senate. We hold, for reasons subsequently discussed, that Rule 11 is unconstitutional.

On the afternoon of June 15, 1973, the Attorney General at the relation of the Lieutenant Governor filed a petition for writ of prohibition in this Court seeking to prevent Senator Cason, as President Pro Tempore, from interfering with the right of the Lieutenant Governor to preside over sessions of the Senate. After reviewing the petition and suggestions in support thereof, the Court made the following order:

'(4:58 P.M.) Relator's original petition for writ of prohibition, filed on or about 3:30 P.M., this date, wherein this Court is asked to review and resolve novel and important questions prior to midnight of this date, is denied because the Court concludes it cannot in this limited time give to these issues the consideration warranted for final decision on the merits.'

In addition to the lack of sufficient time to hear from both parties, to do necessary research and to deliberate, a factor influencing the decision of the Court was the fact that the Attorney General then had outstanding an opinion in which he had held that a similar Senate Rule adopted in 1969 was valid. 4 The then Lieutenant Governor,

Page 408

William S. Morris, requested an opinion from the Attorney General as to the validity of that rule. On January 20, 1969, the Attorney General held that Rule 10 was constitutional. This opinion was withdrawn by the Attorney General on June 18, 1973, three days after the petition for writ of prohibition was filed.

Subsequently, respondent instituted a declaratory judgment suit in the Circuit Court of Cole County for the purpose of determining the constitutionality of Senate Rule 11, thereby settling for the future the question of whether the lieutenant governor has a constitutional right to serve as presiding officer of the senate or whether, under its rule-making authority, the senate may provide for replacement of the lieutenant governor as presiding officer at the will of the senate or its president pro tempore. Thereafter, this proceeding was instituted by relator in this Court. While it is one in the nature of quo warranto seeking an order ousting respondent Cason from exercising rights, powers and privileges of the lieutenant governor as president of the senate, its ultimate objective also is to determine the constitutionality of Rule 11. In view of the desirability of resolving this question prior to the convening of the Second Session of the 77th General Assembly, the Court concluded to consider the question in this proceeding rather than to await an appeal in the declaratory judgment action. On application, the Lieutenant Governor was permitted to intervenue. The case was submitted on the pleadings and an agreed statement of facts.

The office of lieutenant governor is established by Art. IV, § 10, which provides as follows:

'There shall be a lieutenant governor who shall have the same qualifications as the governor and shall be ex officio president of the senate. In committee of the whole he may debate all questions, and shall cast the deciding vote on equal division in the senate and on joint vote of both houses.' 5

What is the effect of the provision in Art. IV, § 10 that the lieutenant governor shall be ex officio president of the senate? What do the words 'president of the senate' mean?

This Court has recognized that in the construction of constitutional provisions it should undertake to ascribe to words the meaning which the people understood them to have when the provision was adopted. This was expressed in State ex rel. Heimberger v. Board of Curators of University of Missouri, 268 Mo. 598, 188 S.W. 128 (banc 1916), wherein the Court undertook to interpret the meaning of the constitutional provision which bestowed the 'government' of the state university on a board of curators. In deciding that question, the Court quoted from a recognized text on constitutional interpretation which emphasized reliance on the natural and ordinary meaning of words, in this language, 188 S.W. l.c. 130:

"The thing we seek is the thought which it expresses. To ascertain this, the first resort in all cases is to the natural signification of the words employed, in the order of grammatical arrangement in which the framers of the instrument have placed them. If, thus regarded, the words embody a definite meaning, which involves no absurdity and no contradiction between different parts of the same writing, then that meaning, apparent on the face of the instrument, is the one which alone we are at liberty to say was

Page 409

intended to be conveyed. That which the words declare is the meaning of the instrument, and neither courts nor Legislatures have a right to add to or take away from that meaning.' Cooley's Const. Limitations (7th Ed.) p. 91. 'In interpreting clauses we must presume that words have been employed in their natural and ordinary meaning. As Marshall, C.J., says: The framers of the Constitution and the people who adopted it 'must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.' This is but saying that no forced or unnatural construction is to be put upon their language; * * *.' Cooley's Const. Limitations (7th Ed.) pp. 92, 93.'

The same standard of interpretation was expressed in Household Finance Corporation v. Schaffner, 356 Mo. 808, 203 S.W.2d 734, 737 (banc 1947), as follows:

'* * * The only way we can determine what meaning was conveyed to the voters by the provision is to determine what it means to us, giving the words used their ordinary and usual meaning. * * *'

Subsequent cases announcing a similar rule include Rathjen v. Reorganized School District R-II of Shelby Co., 365 Mo. 518, 284 S.W.2d 516 (banc 1955), and State ex rel. Curators of the University of Missouri v. Neill, 397 S.W.2d 666 (Mo. banc 1966).

In undertaking to ascertain the ordinary, usual and commonly understood meaning of words, we look first to dictionary definitions. That is what the court did in the Heimberger, Rathjen and Neill cases, supra. In so doing, we look to those definitions applicable to the context in which the word is used. Hence, we look particularly for definitions relating to president of the senate or of a legislative body.

Webster's New International Dictionary (2nd Ed.), published in 1934, includes the following definition of the word 'president':

'1. One who presides; a ruler; governor; sovereign; head; now, one who is elected or appointed to preside, or control the proceedings of others. Specif.: a. A presiding officer of a governmental body, as of an advisory council, of an administrative board, or of a legislative assembly * * *.'

In Webster's Third New International Dictionary, published in 1961, appears the following:

'4a: the presiding officer of a governmental body (as an advisory council, administrative board, or legislative assembly) (the constitution * * * makes the vice president of the U(nited) S(tates) (the president) of the senate) * * *.'

The Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1933, includes these definitions:

'2. The appointed or elected head of a temporary or permanent body of persons, who presides over their meetings and proceedings.

'4. The officer in whom the executive power is vested in a modern republic * * *. Used first in the United States of America * * *. In (the) U(nited) S(tates) the name was app(arently) continued from that of...

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27 practice notes
  • Cruzan by Cruzan v. Harmon, No. 70813
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • November 16, 1988
    ...to its plain language and in a manner consistent with the understanding of the people who adopted it. State ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408-09 (Mo. banc 1973). We thus find no unfettered right of privacy under our constitution that would support the right of a person to refus......
  • State ex rel. Sanstead v. Freed, No. 9308
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 21, 1977
    ...pp. 547, 607.) 3 In addition, we note three cases which indirectly address the issue presented herein-State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405 (Mo.En. Banc 1973); Opinion of Justices, 284 Ala. 129, 222 So.2d 714 (1969); and Rouse et al. v. Johnson, 234 Ky. 473, 28 S.W.2d 745, 70 A.L.......
  • Dye v. State ex rel. Hale, No. 57895
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 29, 1987
    ...Governor's powers to include the selection of committees and the assignment of bills. Unlike State of Missouri ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 413 (Mo.1974), upon which the Senators rely for support, the legislative history shows that this was contemplated by the framers of the M......
  • Associated Industries of Missouri v. State Tax Com'n of Missouri, No. 68671
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • January 8, 1987
    ...to words the meaning which the people understood them to have when the provision was adopted." State ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Mo. banc 1973). Based on the plain language submitted to the voters approving the 1945 Constitution, there can be little doubt that the m......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • Cruzan by Cruzan v. Harmon, No. 70813
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • November 16, 1988
    ...to its plain language and in a manner consistent with the understanding of the people who adopted it. State ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408-09 (Mo. banc 1973). We thus find no unfettered right of privacy under our constitution that would support the right of a person to refus......
  • State ex rel. Sanstead v. Freed, No. 9308
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 21, 1977
    ...pp. 547, 607.) 3 In addition, we note three cases which indirectly address the issue presented herein-State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405 (Mo.En. Banc 1973); Opinion of Justices, 284 Ala. 129, 222 So.2d 714 (1969); and Rouse et al. v. Johnson, 234 Ky. 473, 28 S.W.2d 745, 70 A.L.......
  • Dye v. State ex rel. Hale, No. 57895
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 29, 1987
    ...Governor's powers to include the selection of committees and the assignment of bills. Unlike State of Missouri ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 413 (Mo.1974), upon which the Senators rely for support, the legislative history shows that this was contemplated by the framers of the M......
  • Associated Industries of Missouri v. State Tax Com'n of Missouri, No. 68671
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • January 8, 1987
    ...to words the meaning which the people understood them to have when the provision was adopted." State ex rel. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Mo. banc 1973). Based on the plain language submitted to the voters approving the 1945 Constitution, there can be little doubt that the m......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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