Yesterday was day one of the Blagojevich trial. Illinois politics, often ethically challenged, appears to be winning the race to the bottom. With the last governor in jail, and former Governor Blagojevich facing charges of racketeering, mail fraud, attempted extortion, and bribery, Illinois' "pay to play" political system will be on trial as much as the Blagojevich brothers.
What makes this circumstance worse, is that systemic corruption has undermined and distracted attention from the substantive problems facing all state governments: budget deficits, programs that don't work, out of line pension and health care obligations, underfunding of education and important public services. The most debilitating tax we pay is not the income tax or the sales tax. It is the corruption tax levied on every Illinois citizen by a succession of out of control politicians.
So it was a bad day for politics. But it is a good day for law. Faced with public crimes, our legal system is again providing redress. An independent prosecutor is forcing our former top state official to account for his conduct. The trial will take place in an independent federal court, presided over by a judge with a lifetime appointment who cannot be removed for political reasons. The case will be heard by a jury drawn from residents throughout the metropolitan area: Men and women who received a jury summons in the mail, asking them to report to 219 South Dearborn Street in Chicago, to help decide this and other cases important to our community.
The jurors will hear evidence -- testimony from witnesses who will tell their stories, then be questioned by attorneys for both the Government and the defendants. And former Governor Blagojevich will have his opportunity to speak, if he chooses. If he elects not to testify, the Government cannot criticize his silence. It is the Government's responsibility to prove that he broke the law, not his duty or legal burden to prove his innocence. The Constitution guarantees that he can remain silent if he wishes. And Judge Zagel will enforce that right.
The next three months will offer plenty of spectacle. There will be low points. The trial is likely to inform us -- in some ways we might just as soon not know -- how our state government has been run. But it is also likely remind us that no one stands above the law, and that we are all responsible, as citizens, jurors, lawyers and judges for making our collective enterprise run fairly and honestly.
And that reminder makes yesterday a good day.