Today members of the 111th Congress are taking the oath of office. Al Franken and Roland Burris will not be among them and that is appropriate. Here’s why and here’s what should happen next.
First, Al Franken. Though the Minnesota State Canvassing Board certified Franken the winner by 225 votes yesterday following a rejection of incumbent GOP Senator Norm Coleman’s legal appeal to the state Supreme Court, Coleman still has some remaining long shot legal challenges at his disposal. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Coleman will file a lawsuit known as an election contest. If granted, this is a legal injunction of sorts which would prevent the governor and secretary of state from signing the documents which would certify the election’s results as decided by the canvassing board and supreme court. While I wish Senator Coleman would drop his legal challenge so Al Franken could be sworn in today, he is within his right to throw this Hail Mary pass. Doing so probably signals the end of his political career, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Al Franken must not take office until the Coleman legal challenges run their course.
The case of Roland Burris is perhaps more complicated. Despite the fact that soon-to-be-jailed Governor Rod Blagojevich clearly was auctioning off the senate seat once held by President-Elect Barack Obama, he has not yet been officially charged nor has he been convicted of any crime. While I don’t like it, his appointment of former Illinois Attorney General Burris is legal and it should be certified by the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
But here’s the catch: White has refused the sign the documents certifying the appointment. Until he does, Burris should not be seated.
That means that Burris or anyone supporting his bid to become a senator must file suit to force White to certify the appointment. While some have speculated that the appointment becomes null and void if the state legislature ends up impeaching Blagojevich before White is compelled to sign the certification document, that argument makes no sense to me. The central fact is Blagojevich made the appointment as governor. While I don’t like it and I don’t like the fact that Burris accepted the appointment, the appointment was made and Burris accepted it. Yes, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn would become governor should an impeachment occur, but I doubt that the courts would allow a Gov. Quinn to make an appointment as long as legal challenges are pending which would force White to certify the Burris appointment.
I’m not a lawyer, but it seems pretty cut and dry that Blagojevich acted inappropriately, but legally, when he named Burris the next senator from Illinois.
That said, there is no way that Burris would ever be elected in 2010. Voters in Illinois are tired of the bi-partisan culture of corruption in that state. Though Burris is only guilty of having a huge ego and extremely bad judgment, voters would never elect him to hold the seat in his own right.
My bet is that Secretary of State Jesse White will become the next Senator, because he’s the one of the lot who is acting with principle.
Until these legal challenges run their course, both Franken and Burris should not be seated. Perhaps they can spend this swearing in day on Capitol Hill with Mike Brown and Paul Strauss, the shadow senators for the District of Columbia. For now at least, they have as much authority in the U.S. Senate.