Friday's decision by the Illinois Supreme Court reinforces what I've been saying for days: Harry Reid and his colleagues are faced with only two choices: Seat Roland Burris, or deprive Illinois of a senator, because there is no legal way to pick anyone but Burris until the next regularly scheduled congressional election in November of 2010. While pontificators continue to blather on about the senate's authority and strategic options, the reality is that Illinois law is the most significant determinant.
To understand the bottom line here, one should first consider the statute that prescribes Governor-poet Rod Blagojevich's legal obligation to fill the seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama:
"When a vacancy shall occur in the office of United States Senator from this state, the Governor shall make temporary appointment to fill such vacancy until the next election of representatives in Congress, at which time such vacancy shall be filled by election, and the senator so elected shall take office as soon thereafter as he shall receive his certificate of election."
You don't have to be an attorney to interpret the meaning of that law; you just need to be able to comprehend simple English. Clearly, there was a vacancy that Blagojevich filled by appointing Burris. It is just as clear that the law indicates such appointments remain in effect "until the next election of representatives in Congress." Therefore, nobody who might replace Blagojevich as governor will have the inherent authority to appoint anyone to the United States Senate. That's because there is currently no vacant senate seat, and there is no seat expected to soon become vacant, even if the Senate Majority Leader continues to thuggishly insist he and his band of vacillating lawmakers can do anything they want.
Although many observers have been speculating about Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn making a senate appointment after he presumably becomes governor, there was never any reason to conclude that Burris could somehow be "unappointed." With Friday's opinion from the highest court in the state, that fantasy becomes even more farfetched. The decision -- which Burris would surely rely on if Quinn or anyone were to try making another appointment -- states " there is no question at all that the Governor did, in fact, make the appointment..." and "nothing in the published rules of the Senate, including Rule II, appears to require that Senate appointments made by state executives... must be signed and sealed by the state's secretary of state. Moreover, no explanation has been given as to how any rule of the Senate, whether it be formal or merely a matter of tradition, could supercede the authority to fill vacancies conferred on the states by the federal constitution."
Rather than mock Blagojevich for his creative defense tactics, pundits, legislators and concerned citizens should focus on the futility of denying Sen. Burris his lawfully appointed seat. That the stonewalling has been attributed to an aversion to misconduct, is easily the most hilarious irony of the year so far. If he has not already done so, Obama -- who is often recognized as a constitutional scholar -- might consider sharing his legal acumen with Reid very soon.