Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Case for Seating Roland Burris...and for that matter, following the Constitution!

Most people with a basic knowledge about Louisiana political history (or at a minimum having seen the movie Blaze) are familiar with one of the most famous “escapes” by a patient from a mental institution.
Earl K. Long was arguably Louisiana’s most flamboyant politician. Huey Long’s scrappy younger brother served as Louisiana’s governor on three occasions. His ferocity in politics was legendary and not even the opponents’ health maladies were spared in Earl’s vitriol, nor was the Kingfish.
In what was one of the worst kept secrets in political circles, Earl also had a thing for strippers.
During his third term, Long was dragged kicking and screaming to the Southeastern Louisiana State Hospital, a psychiatric treatment facility in Mandeville, by members of his family after the governor’s erratic behavior reached a new low while delivering a speech before the legislature.
Though he had been committed against his will to an asylum, Long was still governor and one of the state executive’s powers was the ability to unilaterally fire and hire the head of the state’s hospital board, which had authority over the hospital where he was confined. Long axed the state hospital chief and replaced him with someone who then swapped out the head of the very hospital he was being held with a new director who then obligingly ended the governor’s 9-day forced convalescence.
While Long was a very sick man, mentally and physically, he retained his office until his term end, whether he was in the State Capitol, a Bourbon Street burlesque bar or a padded cell.
Though Uncle Earl was crazy, he was still governor.
Five decades in the future and 900 miles up the Mississippi River, another controversial state executive has tested his authority under unfavorable circumstances as Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich continues to be the 400 pound skunk in the Temple of Obama.
Accused by the feds of trying to auction the president-elect’s vacant seat in the US Senate to the highest bidder, Blagojevich was arrested and released on bond.
Rebuffing calls from the media and his own party to resign, the embattled Blagojevich appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to an office that he allegedly referred to as a “BLANKING-valuable thing” that he estimated its worth to range between a patronage-laden cabinet post in the Obama Administration to a six-figure annual salary for his wife.
Unfortunately for the opportunistic Burris, his fellow Democrats have stopped him from assuming office.
According to this prop from the movie National Treasure (Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution and I hope you are paying attention Vice-President-elect Joe Biden), the qualifications of a United States Senator are as follows: one must be 30 years old, a citizen of the US for a minimum of 9 years and an inhabitant of the state of the seat. Burris meets these criteria.
The Seventeenth Amendment providing for the popular election of US Senators contains the following language: “When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
So while Blagojevich will assuredly be sent to a penitentiary in the future, he is presently governor and thus has the legal authority to appoint anyone meeting the qualifications established in Article I of the US Constitution to fill the empty Illinois Senate seat in Congress.
Now why should Harry Reid playing George Wallace to the duly appointed Burris trouble everyone?
Because it sets the precedent that the US Senate can ignore the law and arbitrarily block whomever they wish, even if the embargoed individual meets the constitutional qualifications and went through the proper process.
The only other true concern that the Democratic caucus should have is if Burris attained his appointment through nefarious means and at this writing no evidence has been uncovered of a quid pro quo between Blagojevich and his appointee.
The Burris fiasco is just the latest example of Democrats throwing out the rules (including the ones encased in that giant vault at the National Archives) in the name of good public relations and political expediency. Remember how the New Jersey Supremes rewrote the law so the Democrats could swap out a sagging Bob Toricelli with a more electable seventy-something year old after the deadline to do so?
There are worse things than having a kleptomaniac for a governor, namely having jurists with wild legal imaginations on the bench and high-ranking lawmakers in Congress with no regard for the document they swore an oath to protect and support.
Illinois, like California in 2002, got the governor they elected and, pardon my ruthlessness, deserved. Knee-jerk acceptance of anything with a D next to his or her name makes for bad politics and worse government and is not much different than walking into a West Palm Beach voting machine and automatically puncturing the second chad without bothering to read the name next to it.
To paraphrase Cardinal Lamberto from Godfather III, the sins of the Illinois electorate are terrible and it is just that they suffer. The same goes for the Democratic Party that was aware of what kind of politician Blagojevich was and supported him just the same.
Don’t like Blagojevich as a governor anymore? Impeach him or convict him, whichever comes first. But until that process is initiated and runs its course, he’s still governor and has the authority to exercise the duties of his office.
If crazy Earl Long could appoint his way out of a mental hospital then crooked Rod Blagojevich can “give away for nothing” the vacant Illinois senate spot to a constitutionally qualified individual.

1 comment:

Jason Shepherd said...

But Bayham, what about Article I, Sect. 5, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members..."

In the past, this has given the House and the Senate almost complete power to not seat a member, even at times members who were elected, but the election was in contraversy (special note to both Norm and Al).