Burris appointment and the Constitution

By The Madison County Record | Jan 2, 2009

To the editor:

Politics and wish lists aside, I am continually amazed at the state of our constitutional education.

Harry Reid, President-elect Obama, the Senate Committee continually reference and the Republican spokesman all have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, but it appears none of them pay any attention to it and that is the most alarming issue arising out of Governor Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris.

If the provisions of the Constitution and its past interpretation mean anything at all, Mr. Roland Burris must be seated as the next Senator from Illinois. If Burris meets the qualifications of Article I, Section 3, neither Harry Reid nor anyone else can legally refuse this appointment.

The qualifications are minimal: he must have attained the age of 30, he must have been "nine years a citizen of the United States" and he must be an "inhabitant of Illinois." Pursuant to the Seventeenth Amendment, if the legislature of Illinois has empowered its Governor to make temporary appointments until a future election, Governor Blagojevich has the power to make the appointment. And, Illinois has given the Governor that power pursuant to statute.

Pursuant to Powell v. McCormack, a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1969, because Mr. Burris meets these qualifications, the U.S. Senate cannot legally deny this appointment.

Yes, pursuant to Article I, Section 5, 2/3 of the Senate can expel a member. Does that mean they can do so for no reason whatsoever? Surely not. If that were the case, 2/3 of the Senate could expel the other 1/3 at any time.

So much for democracy. No, the only case law on the subject states that the "right to expel extends to all cases where the offence is such as in the judgment of the Senate is inconsistent with the trust and duty of the Member." In re Chapman (1897). To expel, the Senate would have to find Mr. Burris in violation of a "trust and duty," but how can that be? He has not even taken his seat yet!

When Harry Reid says he and his committee are not going to seat Roland Burris, he and all who agree with him are trampling on the Constitution, either out of ignorance or, worse yet, in direct and intentional violation of their oath to uphold it. The citizens of Illinois ought to be more outraged at the thought of the U.S. Senate denying a valid and constitutional appointment than even the Governor's antics or Chicago politics in general.

Harry Reid does not possess that much power, at least according to the Constitution and its interpretation by the United States Supreme Court. And, contrary to those who believe this is a "constitutional crisis," it will be so only if those in charge of upholding it do not!

Would a vote to deny this appointment be considered a violation of the "trust and duty" owed by the Harry Reids of the Senate?

Tad Armstrong

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