The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. McMaster acted within his power in his appointment of a former state attorney general as interim chairman of Santee Cooper without approval from the state Senate.
All five justices agreed McMaster had the authority to appoint Charlie Condon as head of the state-owned utility after the Senate did not act on his nomination before adjourning this summer.
The Santee Cooper board has not met since Condon became chairman in July, worried about the potential for its actions to be overruled in the future if the court decided the other way.
Senators sued the governor, agreeing that McMaster had the authority to make a recess appointment but arguing it could not be Condon. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman argued Condon could not be appointed since senators had already begun considering his nomination and had not approved it. While Condon was vetted by a Senate panel, no vote was taken on his nomination.
Santee Cooper’s leadership has taken on a paramount importance in South Carolina politics since lawmakers are deciding the utility’s very future. A joint House-Senate committee is considering several potential options for the state utility’s $8 billion in debt, including a possible sale to a private company. McMaster favors a sale, while many prominent senators do not.
The justices ruled they could not get involved in the political nature of Condon’s appointment, but said federal precedent suggests the governor can choose whomever he wants until the Senate returns and either approves or rejects the nomination.
“If we were to adopt the Senate’s interpretation of the statute, and the Governor, for whatever reason, failed to make an appointment to a vacancy during the recess in which the vacancy initially arose, the Senate could hold the vacancy open in perpetuity and thwart the functioning of the government,” the court wrote.