Senate rejects Burris, but law may be on his side
The would-be senator from Illinois, named by a tainted governor, vows to fight on.
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The Senate leadership has vowed to keep him out, and in Illinois, lawmakers and officials are fuming at the chutzpah of their governor, Rod Blagojevich, who faces criminal corruption charges and impeachment, in appointing a senator. Racial politics have added a new political wrinkle to the imbroglio.
But Mr. Burris, a former attorney general and comptroller in Illinois and a noted African-American politician, seems to face few legal hurdles that will stop him from eventually taking the office, though his credentials were rejected because the Illinois secretary of state had refused to sign the requisite paperwork.
“It seems pretty clear he’s entitled to be seated,” says Prof. Robert Bennett, at Northwestern University School of Law. A 1969 US Supreme Court ruling laid out the conditions in which Congress can refuse to seat a member, and the court reiterated them in a recent decision on term limits. Still, a few scenarios exist that could yet prevent Burris from holding the office for the next two years, says Professor Bennett.
While Burris’s senatorial status remains unclear, momentum is building among Illinois legislators against the man who selected him, Governor Blagojevich. By appointing Burris, “it may be that Blagojevich has speeded up the process of being kicked out of office,” Bennett says.
An Illinois House panel met Sunday to consider impeachment. Some say an impeachment vote could come this week – with a possible second vote next week after the new legislature convenes. The state Senate would then need to hold a trial, but the whole process could be over within weeks.
When it comes to Burris’s appointment, some say Blagojevich outsmarted the legislature. Lawmakers had considered calling for a special election to fill Obama’s seat, but backed off after Blagojevich’s lawyer assured them the governor was not planning to fill the vacancy. Democratic lawmakers were also concerned that voters might elect a Republican.
“They took the governor at his lawyer’s word that he would not do this,” says Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “You have a guy who is completely running amok, and they handed him a live hand grenade,” he adds.