Rejecting Burris: Democrats do battle over Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to fill Obama's Senate seat
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The question everyone in Washington and Chicago has on their minds this New Years Eve is whether or not the Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have the authority under the Constitution to reject the appointment of Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's vacated seat by Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich?
I am of the opinion that Senator Reid and his fellow Democratic Senators would be well within their rights under Article 1, Section 5 of the US Constitution, which states each chamber "shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members", to reject Mr. Burris when Congress reconvenes after the first of the year.
There are several constitutional provisions which the Majority Leader can use to prevent Burris from being seated, but it is unclear which makes the most sense considering the extenuating circumstances of the federal investigation into the integrity of the appointment process and the pay-to-play politics practiced by the Blagojevich administration. In his defense, the Illinois Governor and Burris can cite recent precedent of the courts rejecting such measures by Congressional leaders to assert such authority.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (See photo on right) was refused his seat in the chamber in 1967 over corruption allegations, but the Supreme Court overruled the House of Representatives, finding the lower house was in violation of its constitutional authority when refusing to seat a member elected and qualified to serve. Reid rightly argues the Powell case does not apply under the current circumstances because the candidate is himself not questioned, but rather the integrity of the process itself that was in question. It seems clear that Blago chose a man well qualified and fit to serve as Illinois' junior senator, but Burris was not elected by the voters of Illinois. Ultimately, the question will be the conduct of the governor, making this appointment now under a cloud of suspicion stemming from the highly publicized federal investigation into his corrupt way of conducting business.
It is unclear how the president-elect feels about the situation as Obama takes a much deserved vacation in Honolulu, but I would bet he will probably want to put this whole ordeal behind him and his administration as quickly as possible. He and Burris are close political allies and Burris does not carry a lot of political bagage himself, so if the former-Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General can charm the brass on Capitol Hill, Barack may be able to give him the political leverage he needs to secure his place in the upper chamber of the legislative branch.
Meanwhile the Federal prosecutor has filed for a rare 90-day extension of the Blagojevich grand jury, so maybe the drama won't be so easily put behind the president-elect as he seeks to implement his agenda in the first 100 days of his administration. That said, he does already have a near filibuster-proof majority with or without Burris, so the newly inaugurated President Obama better take care of it fast if he hopes to keep it from becoming a convenient distraction as the Governor continues to drag Chicago politics to even lower lows.