Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has defied his critics and selected Roland Burris to replace Barack Obama. There is now speculation that the Secretary of State will not certify the appointment or that the Senate will use its inherent powers to block Burris. I just finished an interview with CBS stating that I believe both efforts would be an abuse of power. As the sitting governor of Illinois, Blagojevich is entitled to make this appointment.
Burris, 71, also a Democrat, served Illinois as state comptroller and later as attorney general.
In a statement released Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said it was “truly regrettable that … Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety. We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat.”
The suggestion that the Senate might block the appointment is disturbing. The rarely used power to refuse to seat a member is confined to true election controversies where votes were not counted or elections were unfair. There is nothing illegitimate about this appointment. Regardless of how members may feel about Blagojevich, he is the unimpeached, unconvicted governor of Illinois. There is no allegations that Burris purchased this seat. Indeed, it would suicidal for Blagojevich to engage in such a quid pro quo in the face of a federal indictment.
Some have pointed to the case of Theodore Bilbo as an example of the Senate barring a controversial members. It would be ironic if Burris (an african american politician) where to be painted with the same brush as Bilbo, a vile racist and bigot. Burris is no Bilbo and this is not a good case of precedent for his denial. Bilbo was on his third term when there was the fight over his credentials. He was a vile racist who was accused of inciting violence to keep blacks from voting. I consider that to be a legitimate election controversy. There is nothing illegitimate about this appointment; there is no cognizable claim that Burris is not properly a member of the Senate. By the way, the problem is the Bilbo fight is that other Southern senators could have been accused of benefiting from suppression tactics of that kind. Bilbo ultimately died of cancer before the matter was resolved.
A more likely move would be to allow Burris to be sworn in while calling for an investigation to save face for the Democrats.
The same is true with the suggested refusal of the Secretary of State Jesse White to certify the appoint. Such an act would be based on the Secretary’s assumption of corruption. Absent impeachment or a criminal conviction, it is hard to see the authority for such an obstructionist position.
Burris is the next and legitimate senator from Illinois because he was appointed by the current and legitimate governor of Illinois. The rest is political posturing in my view.
The move may have a marginal benefit legally for Blagojevich. At his trial, he will be able to show that Burris was in the running from the start and ultimately did receive the seat without any allegation of corruption. This may strengthen the defense that all politicians explore how the use of political power will benefit them. Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother and a series of campaign contributors. In this conspiracy, Blagojevich will be able to show it was just a type of political trash talk. It will ultimately depend on those tapes and there may be some highly damaging parts since Fitzgerald seems eager to have legislators listen to them.
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