There's a lot of uncritical reporting of claims about who has the legal right to do what in the battle over Barack Obama's senate successor. Good on TIME for pausing to ask the key question: "Can they do that?"
We'll get to who "they" are and what "that" is in a second. First, let's review the latest developments in the Saga de Blago.
Today, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to serve out Barack Obama's term as the junior senator from Illinois.
Earlier this month, Blagojevich shocked political observers by refusing to resign even after he was arrested for allegedly attempting to auction off the seat to the highest bidder.
Note that Roland Burris was not shortlisted when Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell off Obama's seat. Nobody is alleging that Burris was involved in any kind of corruption.
Burris is respected political figure in Illinois who has served as
controller and attorney general and whose personal integrity is (so
far) considered above reproach. He's also an African American, which is
a big deal because when Obama ascends to the Oval Office, the Senate will lose its only
Appointing Burris was a shrewd move on the governor's part. While under suspicion for influence peddling, Blago picked someone who might actually be qualified and ethical, instead of a political crony. Nobody saw that coming. That sneaky bastard!
Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate Democrats will refuse to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich. President-elect Obama is backing Reid's play.
But why shouldn't Rod Blagojevich be allowed to appoint the next senator from the State of Illinois? He's still the governor. He hasn't been convicted of anything, or even indicted. The legislative branch could have impeached him, but it hasn't done so yet.
Protocol dictates that a governor in Blago's position would resign, but he didn't do the done thing. So, as far as I can see, Blago is still a full-fledged governor with all the usual rights and responsibilities.
At a televised press conference today, Blago went a step further and claimed that, as governor, he had not only the option, but the legal obligation to make sure that Illinois gets its second senator with all due speed. Anyone want to weigh in on the legal merits of that claim?
The Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has vowed to reject the paperwork for the Burris nomination "because of the current cloud of
controversy surrounding the governor."
Can he do that? I doubt it. Presumably, secretaries of state must have good reasons for refusing to certify gubernatorial appointments. The fact that a governor has been accused of wrongdoing doesn't seem like a very good legal reason to reject otherwise valid paperwork. It seems like a bad precedent to let secretaries of state block appointments just because they suspect that the governor is a criminal.
Getting back to the TIME item that sparked this post... "They" are the Senate Democrats, and "that" is refusing to seat Burris.
Political Hotsheet says they probably can't:
In the past, the Senate has ruled on appointments where the
power of an outgoing governor to make an appointment was unclear. But
as of now, there seems little question that Blagojevich is still the
governor; the state legislature has not changed the appointment power;
and as of now, Blagojevich has not been convicted, or even indicted. [CBS]
One might argue that Blagojevich doesn't have the power to appoint Senators unless the secretary of state certifies the appointment. But that begs the question as to whether the SOS may refuse to certify on the mere suspicion that the governor is a crook.
Absent some further argument, it seems that Blago has the right to appoint Burris and the Senate Democrats have an obligation to seat him. Nobody has to like it.
Blagojevich is accused of flouting the rule of law. It would be ironic if politicians allowed themselves to disregard more laws in their haste to repudiate him.