In the event Mike Leavitt resigns to accept an appointment to the federal government, Olene Walker will assume the governor's office, complete with full authority and powers.
On Monday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff released a legal opinion regarding the succession of power issue.
The Utah Constitution specifies that the "powers and duties of the governor shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor," pointed out Shurtleff in the attorney general's legal opinion.
The title of the office includes the authority to appoint the state's lieutenant governor.
The Utah provision follows the United States Constitution's guideline specifying that the powers and duties of a president "shall devolve to the vice president," continued the attorney general's legal opinion.
Federal succession occurred four times prior to the adoption of the Utah Constitution.
The federal concessions in question included John Tyler in 1840, Millard Fillmore in 1850, Andrew Johnson in 1765 and Chester Arthur in 1881.
In theory and practice, the constitutional language shall devolve means succession, pointed out Shurtleff.
Utah's succession provision was revisited in 1980 when state citizens adopted amendments according to the legal opinion issued in the matter by the attorney general's office.
The revisions created the lieutenant governor position to replace of the secretary of state.
In addition, the revisions required the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket and clarified the line of succession of executive authority.
Arguments supporting the revisions noted that "the proposed amendment clarifies the present order of succession, making it similar to that of the U.S. Constitution," indicated the attorney general's office.
Case law and the people's response to contrary decisions support the determination that, under the Utah Constitution, the lieutenant governor becomes the governor when the elected office is resigned or vacated, stated the attorney general's legal opinion.
The specific language of the Utah Constitution does not lead to a contrary conclusion.
An alternative claim may argue that the lieutenant governor would become the "acting" governor, exercising the duties of the office, but not assuming the title nor the power to appoint a successor, added Shurtleff.