The U.S. Senate leadership on Tuesday refused to admit Blagojevich’s pick, attorney Roland Burris, as the junior senator from Illinois. If Burris is going to get into the Senate, it looks like he’s going to have to get a court order. That will likely take quite some time.
In that time, we’re likely to get a new governor of Illinois who will want to make his own appointment to the Senate vacancy. We could have dueling would-be senators.
Or the Democratic leadership of the Illinois legislature might finally put the people before their party and pass a law to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
That would be the honorable thing. It’s not too late to do that. We already have an election coming up. People around the state will go to the polls in February for local offices. But we’re not holding our breath. By stalling on an election, the Democratic leaders in Illinois have shown that their primary interest in the whole mess created by their governor is to survive it, to save their party’s dominance in the state.
An election in the midst of a Democratic Party corruption scandal? That might be bad for business.
Worst of all, Blagojevich and Burris and some of their allies have managed to create a racial divide over this. Rep. Bobby Rush, to his shame, touched it off by comparing the treatment of Burris to a lynching.
Bobby Rush, who complained that it would be an injustice for the Senate not to have a black member.
Bobby Rush, who had the opportunity in the 2004 Democratic primary to help Barack Obama become the only black U.S. senator ... and who supported a white candidate instead.
Blagojevich/Burris/Rush can’t be allowed to do this. Illinois is reeling from this crisis. The state can’t be drawn into a false argument about race and politics.
So let’s get back to the only issue here: This state and the U.S. Senate have every reason to avoid the taint of a U.S. senator being appointed by a governor who has been accused of trying to sell that Senate seat to the highest bidder.
A lot of people seem to be certain about what the law says on this appointment and the power of the Senate to deny it. We’re not so certain on the law — there is no perfect court precedent guiding this. Might courts that properly exclude damning evidence gathered during an illegal search similarly find that a Senate seat can’t be filled by a governor who allegedly tried to sell that very seat? In other words, could the governor’s exercise of power in this case — his attempt to elevate Burris — be the fruit of an already poisonous tree?
The Senate leadership is right to block this appointment and let it be settled in court if it has to be. The Senate has taken a stand based on principle. Tuesday’s actions suggest that the Senate is not going to let this governor toy with it.
Roland Burris handled things on Tuesday with decorum. Now the most dignified action for him would be to withdraw, and stop this governor from playing him and the rest of us.