Many constituents have asked about the various legal strategies currently being used to potentially remove Governor Blagojevich from office. Let me try to summarize what actions are being taken by different authorities under the law, what the steps may be in those actions and what their possible outcomes could be.
I point out that 1) I am not a lawyer and am giving my best interpretation of things as I understand them, and 2) things are changing on a daily basis as this legal situation moves forward.
We are at a historic moment in Illinois government and all of these actions as they are applied to a sitting governor are without precedent, and therefore there are often as many questions about procedure, implementation, etc. as there are answers. I also have to keep reminding myself that the arrest of the governor, which precipitated these drastic steps, only occurred one week ago today, so much work is still in progress.
Here are the different legal activities and options of which I am aware:
The Governor Resigns
This is certainly the quickest and most certain of the possibilities. Upon resignation of the governor, the lieutenant governor would assume office. Pay and benefits to the governor would cease, although absent other legal actions or felony convictions relating to his office, the governor would still be eligible for pension benefits he has earned.
The Governor Steps Aside
Under Illinois law, the governor could step aside temporarily. During this time, the lieutenant governor would become acting governor. It is still being discussed by our attorneys how and under what conditions, if any, the governor would return to being active, and what compensation, benefits, etc. he and his family might receive during his time away from office.
The US Attorney
I understand that in addition to the charges in the complaint precipitating the arrest of the governor last week (if you have not read the entire complaint, you may see it here: http://www.suntimes.com/images/cds/MP3/blagojevich_criminal_complaint2.pdf ), there are other things under investigation which may be appear in an eventual criminal indictment. These criminal charges would be tried in the Federal District Court. A guilty verdict would be cause to remove from office and loss of pension benefits, etc.
The Illinois Attorney General
The Illinois Attorney General has gone before the Illinois Supreme Court and asked for permission to present a case pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 382(a) under which the Court could declare the Governor unfit/unable to hold office or to exercise certain duties/actions as Governor. (If you wish to see all documents filed in regard to this, and to monitor its progress through the Supreme Court, you may go here: http://www.state.il.us/court/SupremeCourt/SpecialMatters/default.asp )
It is not clear yet whether or not the Supreme Court will accept this case, if they accept it when it might be heard, how long it might take or what the verdict of the Court would be. It is unclear how compensation/benefits to the Governor would be affected.
Under Article IV, Section 14 of the Constitution, power exists in the legislature to remove the governor from office through impeachment. This is the relevant language:
SECTION 14. IMPEACHMENT
The House of Representatives has the sole power to
conduct legislative investigations to determine the existence
of cause for impeachment and, by the vote of a majority of
the members elected, to impeach Executive and Judicial
officers. Impeachments shall be tried by the Senate. When
sitting for that purpose, Senators shall be upon oath, or
affirmation, to do justice according to law. If the Governor
is tried, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall
preside. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence
of two-thirds of the Senators elected. Judgment shall not
extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to
hold any public office of this State. An impeached officer,
whether convicted or acquitted, shall be liable to
prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.
(Source: Illinois Constitution.)
On December 15, the House of Representatives began the impeachment process by unanimously adopting House Resolution 1650 (you may see the entire Resolution here: http://ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=51&GA=95&DocTypeId=HR&DocNum=1650&GAID=9&LegID=39930&SpecSess=&Session= ).
The Impeachment Committee is already investigating possible grounds for impeaching the governor. The Committee will meet every day, in public, until it has prepared a report recommending to the full House whether or not to impeach the governor, and if so, on what grounds. Among the grounds to be considered are:
• Official misconduct alleged by the US Attorney
• Abuses of official position
• Political hiring and firing of state employees
• "Pay to Play" allegations
• Acts performed without legal authority
• Other grounds brought to the Committee's attention by witnesses or the public
Given that there is no precedent in Illinois history for either the procedures or time frame for impeaching of a sitting governor, there is no good estimate on how quickly or how long this process might take. Care must be taken to abide by relevant law at all steps of the process, avoid conflict or interference with ongoing criminal investigations, provide for fair, impartial and transparent public process, etc.
The Committee understands the urgency of the state's condition however, and intends to work with all deliberate speed. Should the Committee recommend impeachment to the full House, their report and recommendation must be approved by a majority vote of the House.
The matter would then go to the Senate for trial, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. The case for impeachment approved by the House would likely be presented by House members. Conviction of the governor would require a 2/3 vote of the Senate and would remove him from office terminating salary, etc.
Again, I want to stress that we are moving together through uncharted legal territory here. As time goes on and legal research and opinion clarifies any open questions or changes the direction of proceedings, I will try to let you know. Each and every one of us knows the difficult financial, political and legal challenges facing our state, and wants to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, under the law, and begin to move forward on the other pressing concerns of Illinois.