Embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has defiantly named a successor to serve the remainder of Obama's Senate position. Any candidate that the governor named would have caused conflict, because many politicians, including Obama, have called for Blagojevich to resign and to refrain from naming a successor. But Blagojevich's decision to select former State Attorney Roland Burriss for the position presents even greater political complexity.
Burriss, who is black, would become the only black member of the Senate if his nomination survives a likely battle in the Senate. By picking a respected black politician to replace Obama, Blagojevich forces Democrats to either deny a Senate seat to a black politician or to legitimize his defiant exercise of authority over the process despite increasing demands that he leave office or otherwise decline to name a successor.
It appears that Blagojevich intentionally introduced race politics to the selections process. He first offered the position to Danny Davis, a black member of the House of Representatives, but Davis turned down the offer.
And during the press conference at which Blagojevich made the announcement regarding Burriss, Bobby Rush, a black member of the House of Representatives, stated that: “There are no African-Americans in the Senate . . . And I don’t think that anyone, any U.S. senator who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.”
Rush also urged members of Congress not to "hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." In response, Blagojevich added: "Feel free to castigate the appointer but don't lynch the appointer. I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing!"
Blagojevich's decision to name a successor also complicates an already complex legal situation. Senate Democrats vowed to reject any candidate that Blagojevich names. They claim the authority to do so based on Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which states that "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members . . . ." But the Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the scope of this provision in Powell v. McCormack.
In Powell, the House of Representatives refused to seat Adam Clayton Powell of New York, who faced accusations of financial impropriety. John McCormack, the Speaker of the House, claimed such authority under Article I, but the Supreme Court (in a 7-2 ruling) held that the Constitution only gives each chamber the power to judge those qualifications specifically listed in the constitution (e.g., that candidates for Congress meet certain age or residency requirements and that they were chosen under prescribed procedures). The Court's narrow interpretation of Congressional authority under Article I, Section 5 favors Blagojevich and Burriss.
Even if a candidate meets the requirements to occupy a seat in Congress, the Constitution nevertheless permits each house to "expel" a member. Expulsion, however, requires a requires a 2/3 vote and a showing that the candidate for expulsion has engaged in wrongful conduct
Given the public sentiment against Blagojevich naming a successor, at least 2/3 of the Senate probably does not want Burriss to take office. But unless these Senators can demonstrate that Burriss has engaged in improper conduct, they would not have a legitimate basis to expel him. If the Senate refuses to acknowledge the appointment, and Burriss does not withdraw his acceptance of the offer, then Burriss would have to initiate litigation seeking an injunction barring the Senate from refusing to seat him.