Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Like it or not - Burris is right

The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, certainly seems to be a criminal. There are phone conversations in which he’s talking about selling Obama’s Senate seat, and the circumstantial evidence of Governor Rod being a crook is overwhelming. However, in the eyes of the law he is not a criminal, yet. He has not been convicted, and he has not even been indicted yet; he has only been accused of criminal activity. That means only one thing: he is still legally the Governor of Illinois, with all the powers of such a Governor.

Last week, Governor Blagojevich named Roland W. Burris as the junior Senator of Illinois to replace Obama, and Burris accepted. Today, Burris showed up in Washington for the 111th Congress, eager to get to work. However, he was shown the door by the Secretary of the Senate, Nancy Erickson because she did not accept his credentials. Burris proceeded to make the following statement to the media:

“Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the State of Illinois.”

For a replacement Senator to be named by the Governor, paperwork has to be signed by both the Governor and the Secretary of State. This is an old tradition dating back to English colonial times. In Illinois, the Secretary of State, Jesse White, has refused to sign. Theoretically, it is now argued by the Senate, this fact makes it impossible for Burris to become a Senator until White has signed. I beg to differ.

The Constitution specifically mentions that no specific tests should be required for membership in the Senate. In this case, what the Senate is actually trying to do is to:

impose a test on a would-be Senator with respect mere accusations of wrong-doing of the Governor who appointed him

It is clear that the Constitution overrules Illinois state law in this matter. The Constitution says nothing about signatures from the Secretary of State, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the Senate cannot impose any additional tests on would-be Senators. We’re not even talking about the appropriateness of the would-be Senator himself, but that of the one who appointed him. I believe that it would be very difficult to make an actual legal case that Burris should not be the Senator of Illinois. Like I said, Governor Blagojevich still has all the powers of a Governor, end of story.

This debacle certainly raises some important questions, however. The most important one, in my view is:

Who can veto a Senate appointment?

From the Burris debacle, one could deduct that the ones who can veto such an appointment is: 1. a Secretary of State, 2. a Secretary of the Senate, and 3. the Senate collectively.

Imagine if all Secretaries of State were to get together and decide to block all Senate appointments. They could then do so until people that they liked were appointed instead. These Secretaries could gain control of the Senate. Imagine if the Secretary of the Senate were to start blocking would-be Senators to achieve political goals. That would become an enormously powerful position. If the Senate started imposing all kinds of different tests on would-be Senators, the American political system would become infinitely more gridlocked than it already is.

I think the whole thing stinks, but if you want to follow the law, Burris must become Senator. The American political system fosters corruption because private donations to politicians are allowed, which makes it possible for criminals like Blagojevich to become Governors.

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