Illinois AG: Burris's Senate term can be cut short

Chris Rizo Feb. 26, 2009, 7:39am


SPRINGFIELD-Illinois lawmakers can cut embattled U.S. Sen. Roland Burris's term short by setting a special election, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote in a formal opinion.

In her 11-page analysis, the Democratic attorney general said the U.S. Constitution's 17th Amendment allows state legislators to set a special election even though Burris has been sworn in by the Senate.

"It is my opinion that the Legislature may pass a law allowing the people of Illinois to elect a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Such a law would be consistent with the U.S. Constitution," Madigan wrote.

Acknowledging that Burris has been formally seated in the Senate, Madigan said that fact does not prevent the Illinois General Assembly from calling a special election.

"A temporary appointee to the U.S. Senate has no right that prevents the General Assembly from passing legislation to enable the people to elect their U.S. senator," she wrote in the opinion.

Madigan's legal opinion was sought by state Republicans, who want a special election held May 26. If Burris were to lose the special election, the Democrat would be kicked out of office sooner than January 2011, when the term he is filling ends.

Burris was appointed in December by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested, impeached and ousted from office for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the president.

Burris has been called upon to resign, including by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, amid revelations that he made contradictory statements to state lawmakers about whether he had offered anything to Blagojevich in return for the Senate seat.

After testifying that no deals were made, Burris amended his testimony to say he had spoken to several Blagojevich advisers, whom Burris said called three times asking for fundraising help.

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