Seat Burris

Posted January 6, 2009 at 4:27pm

If a mischievous Republican had contrived to bollix up the smooth transition to all-Democratic rule of the U.S. government, he could not have done a better job than Democrats have done themselves by refusing to seat Roland Burris as Illinois’ junior Senator.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) should end this self-created fiasco promptly — today would be a good day, when they’re scheduled to meet with Burris — by seating him and getting the controversy over with.

The legalities on this matter are clear: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 1969 Powell v. McCormack decision that the Senate’s and House’s constitutional power to “judge … the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members” is limited to determining whether a prospective Member meets the constitutional qualifications to serve: age, citizenship and residency.

This means that, even though Burris was appointed to his seat by utterly disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), he was duly and legally appointed. No one has suggested that corruption was involved in Burris’ selection.

Reid’s and Durbin’s machinations in denying Burris the seat will simply deprive Illinois citizens of representation in the Senate, perhaps for months; deny Senate Democrats a vote on crucial issues; and further embarrass Reid, Durbin and President-elect Barack Obama, who has backed their refusal to accept Blagojevich’s choice to fill Obama’s seat.

Reid has wisely reversed himself on the issue of immediately seating Minnesota Democrat Al Franken pending resolution of incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R) legal challenges to Franken’s election.

Reid evidently did so partly to avoid a Republican filibuster and partly to create the appearance of equal treatment — i.e., delay — in the Illinois and Minnesota cases.

But the cases are not alike. The Minnesota case will be resolved judicially, but — on the merits — no one knows how. In the Illinois case, there is no question of the legal merits. The controversy is entirely political. It’s a mess of the Democrats’ own creation.

Reid and Durbin may be hanging their legal hats on the refusal of Illinois’ secretary of state to sign Blagojevich’s certification of Burris’ appointment, but the courts are sure to rule that signing or not signing is not in the secretary’s legal discretion.

So, the Democratic leaders apparently are intent on delaying Burris’ seating in hopes that the Illinois Legislature will quickly impeach Blagojevich and that his successor will make a new nomination. But this process shows every indication of being long and drawn out.

What’s more, in a situation already tainted by seamy politics, Reid has been talking about some sort of deal whereby Burris would agree to serve only until 2010. Reid previously phoned Blagojevich — with the conversation presumably recorded on federal wiretaps — trying to persuade the governor to appoint a candidate, not Burris, who could win re-election.

We say to the Democratic leaders: End this fiasco and seat the Senator from Illinois.