Mr. Burris Goes to Washington


Roland Burris, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's nominee for the senate seat once held by President-elect Barack Obama, was turned away from the Senate floor today, because he failed to present proper credentials to be sworn in as senator.  Rule 2 of the Standing Rules of the Senate requires that the certificate of election be signed by both the governor AND the secretary of state--who has refused to sign the document.  While the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 5) gives each house the power to "judge of the elections, returns and qualifications," the U.S. Supreme Court in Powell v. McCormack found that the body could not add to the qualifications enumerated in the text of the constitution. It seems clear now that Senate Democrats are trying to avoid raising the "qualifications" issue and are instead looking at the"elections, returns" language. 

This may be mooted soon, as Burris is suing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to force White to provide the needed signature. (The Chicago Tribune has published the complaint for mandamus here.)

Interestingly, Minnesota Senate-hopeful Al Franken, who was declared the winner of the recent recount in his close-race against Norm Coleman, may be coming to Washington with no papers at all.  The Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie appear to agree that state law requires that they withhold certification until all court challenges are over, although this election cycle has proved that anything is possible.

RIGHT: Button from Burris' unsuccessful 1984 run for the U.S. Senate.

UPDATE: Two noted constitutional scholars have weighed in with essays arguing that Burris must be seated; Erwin Chemerinsky in the LA Times and Bruce Fein in the Washington Times.  Both deal directly with the credentials argument, pointing out that some states don't require countersignatures yet the Senate Rule 2 hasn't been invoked in those cases.  Senate Leader Harry Reid seems to be softing his hard stance, suggesting that Burris would be seated if he prevails on his mandamus suit.