Rod Blagojevich has apparently decided to take the Illinois Democratic Party down in flames along with himself. His appointment of Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama’s open seat in the Senate has outraged national Democrats such as Harry Reid and even Barack Obama, and some Illinois Democrats want to have either the Senate or the Illinois Secretary of State block the appointment with procedural moves. Unfortunately, other state figures like Bobby Rush have decided to support the appointment, and the options for blocking it are apparently illusory:
After the Burrris announcement was first reported, most commentators cited the 1969 Powell v. McCormack Supreme Court case involving scandal-tarred Harlem-based Rep. Adam Clayton Powell as evidence that the Senate could not block an appointment.
Powell sued the Speaker of the House to demand that he be permitted to take his seat. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a House of Congress only has the explicit powers laid out in the Article 5, Section 1. It can rule on qualifications such as age and citizenship requirements and can judge elections but cannot prevent a member from being seated because of ethical concerns.
In this case, it’s even less likely that Reid could withstand a court challenge. No one has accused Burris of wrongdoing or unethical behavior. Unless Reid or Patrick Fitzgerald can tie Burris to Blagojevich’s attempts to sell the seat, Reid has no standing to refuse to seat him. After all, according to Illinois law, the governor has the plenary authority to appoint the replacement, and Blagojevich is still the governor.
Secretary of State Jesse White threatened to refuse to certify Burris, a potential procedural block. However, Illinois law gives White little room to maneuver, as Jazz Shaw points out:
Were we to somehow accept Secretary White’s premise, then every Governor in the country is effectively hamstrung, and the office of Secretary of State becomes the most important one in every state. That would basically give one person the power to veto any action taken by the Governor he or she wished, even the signing of new legislation into law. The idea is preposterous on its face. Mr. White has no such power and refusing to certify the appointment should do nothing but open him up to charges that he is failing to perform the duties of his office.
Again, if Burris failed to meet the qualifications of the office or if White has proof that Burris attained the appointment through fraud and corruption, then White would have a legal argument for withholding the certification. White does not have the authority to make a political judgement of the governor’s actions, however. His refusal to certify the appointment would be a dereliction of duty. Blagojevich remains in office and has the authority to make the appointment, and Burris qualifies for the office.
But the real question is why Blagojevich still has that authority. The state legislature, controlled in both chambers by Democrats, had an opportunity two weeks ago to strip Blagojevich of that power. In fact, Blagojevich publicly demanded that the legislature change the law permanently to require special elections rather than executive appointments for Congressional openings. The leadership of the Illinois Democrats, Michael Madigan and Emil Jones, refused to consider that legislation because they didn’t want to risk losing the seat to Republicans. Instead, they played a game of chicken with Blagojevich, and he just beat them at it.
If Democrats thought they had a big enough political problem two weeks ago to put that seat at risk, they face an absolute catastrophe now. Blagojevich has exposed their petty political machinations, catching them caring more about party and power than about their constituents and clean government. Burris won’t stand a chance in re-election, and Illinois voters disgusted with Blagojevich will now become equally disgusted with the fools in Springfield who allowed Blagojevich to fill Obama’s remaining two years with a party insider. The Democrats may lose more than just the Senate seat in 2010.