- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday canceled a hearing over how the lieutenant governor’s office can be filled if Gov. Nikki Haley becomes U.N. ambassador, indicating that Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster won’t be able to pick his successor.

No one is legally arguing he should.

“The parties are in agreement,” making arguments scheduled for Wednesday no longer necessary, justices said in their cancellation order. They gave no specifics on when they would rule, other than calling an opinion “forthcoming.”

State Sen. Tom Davis had asked the state’s high court to settle a discrepancy on whether a constitutional amendment changing the lines of succession is in effect. Justices set the hearing last week as they accepted Davis’ request to take the case directly.

In response, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman asked the court Friday to rule all changes begin with the 2018 election, essentially agreeing with Davis. That would require some maneuvering for Leatherman to keep his powerful leadership post, as the constitution would still call on the Senate’s leader to fill the impending vacancy.

Leatherman, R-Florence, has refused to leave the Senate - and his various roles which make him South Carolina’s most powerful politician - for the largely ceremonial job as lieutenant governor.

Leatherman had asked the justices not to decide anything until McMaster is actually sworn in as governor, calling Davis’ request speculation that relies on a series of assumptions.

Haley’s confirmation process as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador begins Wednesday in the U.S. Senate - two days before Trump’s inauguration.

If justices rule in the way their cancellation order implies, everyone will know “the rules of the game when the political dominoes start falling in the next couple weeks,” Davis said.

He added he’s “pleased the will of the people” will be carried out, saying that was his only objective.

Both a 2012 law asking citizens to vote on the amendment and the opening clause of the ballot question itself specified that succession changes would begin “with the general election of 2018.”

But a law the Legislature passed in 2014 to ratify the voters’ approval of the amendment created questions. That law changed the constitution to say candidates for governor and lieutenant governor would run on the same ticket starting in 2018, but allowed the governor to immediately fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.

But Leatherman told justices in his filing Friday that allowing staggered dates on the amendment “would create a constitutional crisis.”

Leatherman is expected to resign from his leadership post long enough for another senator to be elected president pro tem. That senator would then immediately be sworn in as lieutenant governor. Leatherman would then attempt to get re-elected as president pro tem - a move at least some senators will oppose.

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