Blagojevich: I'm fighting for my right to party -- er, office

“I know I’m on the side of the angels,” former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich tells the local ABC affiliate in Chicago. Well, there’s a first time for everything, or at least Blagojevich better hope so. The convicted felon — now pardoned — will sue the state government over a lack of due process in his impeachment and removal, as well as the disqualification for state or local office imposed by the Illinois senate:

Former governor and convicted felon Rod Blagojevich on Monday told the ABC7 I-Team that Illinois’ General Assembly violated his civil rights in removing him from office and then prohibiting him from any future run for elective office in the state.

Blagojevich was impeached and convicted in 2009 and now plans to ask that a federal jury hear his complaint that the proceedings and decisions were unconstitutional. If the ban on his holding statewide public office was to be lifted, it would open the door to another possible statewide run for the career politician. …

Just weeks after Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI in 2008, and charged in an expansive corruption case, the Illinois House voted to impeach him followed by a senate conviction, thereby removing the state’s 40th governor from office.

Blagojevich says his new lawsuit will accuse the state of an unconstitutional impeachment proceeding, claiming that he was not allowed to call and question witnesses, or play all of the voluminous FBI undercover recordings made during the corruption investigation.

He also says his civil rights were violated when the senate disqualified him from ever running for statewide office.

That’s a curious argument, considering that neither impeachment nor removal have any impact on “constitutional rights.” In Illinois, as at the federal level, the legislature has the plenary authority to conduct the proceedings as they see fit. That’s because it’s an entirely political process rather than a criminal or civil process involving the judicial branch, and there is no “civil right” to a public office. Here is Article IV, Section 14 of the Illinois constitution:

SECTION 14. IMPEACHMENT

The House of Representatives has the sole power to conduct legislative  investigations to determine the existence of cause for impeachment and, by the vote of a majority of the members elected, to impeach Executive and Judicial officers. Impeachments shall be tried by the Senate. When sitting for that purpose, Senators shall be upon oath, or affirmation, to do justice according to law. If the Governor is tried, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators elected. Judgment shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold any public office of this State. An impeached officer, whether convicted or acquitted, shall be liable to prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.

The argument made by Blagojevich that disqualification is “unconstitutional” is explicitly contradicted by the language of the state constitution. If Blagojevich wants to argue that it’s unconstitutional in the context of the US Constitution, he’s got the same problem in Article I, Section 3:

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

The upshot of this is that disqualification is an explicitly constitutional remedy, and that the legislature sets its own standards for evidence and testimony. The legislators are accountable to the voters in impeachments — at least theoretically in Illinois — not to the courts.

ABC reached out to a legal expert in the Windy City, who bent over backwards to keep from sounding too skeptical:

We talked about Blagojevich’s planned lawsuit with ABC7’s legal analyst Gil Soffer, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago.

“I think he’s got a very hard argument to make. And the reason is this: impeachment is not like a criminal proceeding. A criminal proceeding clearly under the Constitution has certain constitutional protections,” said Soffer. “But it is much less clear for an impeachment proceeding. An impeachment proceeding is more political than certainly criminal. It’s more political-at least as part political and legal-and so it’s not at all clear that he has the same right, the same due process protections as he would in a criminal proceeding.”

It’s worth noting that Blagojevich plans on pursuing this lawsuit pro se, meaning that he will represent himself in the the complaint. Presumably, either he wants to save some money, or no other attorney of significance sees any case here, either. And that’s because Blagojevich has no case at all, although it will at least be amusing to hear him argue that a legislature dominated by his own political party treated him unfairly after his corruption got exposed.

In other words, have fun storming the castle.