The last time I checked, we had a Constitution that governed the election and appointment of Senators. America’s governors should demand that Harry Reid comply with it. When it comes to Governor Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to the Senate, the Constitution requires Reid to comply with that decision and seat Burris. Frankly, anything short of honoring Illinois’s decision should create a constitutional crisis. The only entities that may be able stop Blagojevich are in Illinois.
It goes without saying that Blagojevich is a despicable man. The voters of Illinois, however, despite evidence of his questionable character, reelected him in 2006. No matter how unseemly his alleged actions to “sell” Barack Obama’s Senate seat are, he is, as every defendant in America, entitled to the presumption of innocence. Despite the now infamous wiretap recordings, the day after Burris’s appointment, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had to file a motion requesting a 90-day extension to seek an indictment of Blagojevich. Hence, Reid seeks to deny Burris his appointment based upon the allegations against a governor who hasn’t even been indicted.
From the dawn of the Progressive Era, politicians have sought to minimize the Constitution whenever it got in the way. When the Supreme Court rejected President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, he threatened to expand and pack the court with more progressive minds. Suddenly, what was previously unconstitutional became constitutional. After seventy years of emasculating the Constitution, it is time for politicians to respect it rather than roll it out as a media prop.
There are six parts of the Constitution that possibly apply to the issue of seating Burris. Article I, section 3 governs the structure and requirements of the Senate. It is silent on the appointments issue due to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment. Article I, section 4 covers the election of senators. Again, silence. Article I, section 5 speaks of the Senate judging the qualifications of Members, but any qualification requirement must apply to all Members, not just Burris. With the possible appointment of the far less qualified Caroline Kennedy in New York, Michael Bennett in Colorado, and the appointment of Edward Kaufman in Delaware, it is doubtful Reid can manufacture a candidate qualification requirement, rather than some type of faux qualification pertaining to the circumstances of his appointment.
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is the author of the book “Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway” available in June 2009.