Bench Memos

Song of Roland

The blogosphere is aflame with all sorts of speculation about the game of chicken between Rod Blagojevich and Harry Reid:

The New York Times reports that lawyers working for Jesse White, the Illinois secretary of state, have concluded that “there appear[s] to be no statutory requirement that Mr. White’s signature be included” on the certification of Roland Burris’s appointment to the Senate by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.  Advantage Blago.

But the Washington Post reports that the rules of the U.S. Senate require the signature of a state’s secretary of state to complete a gubernatorial appointment to a vacant seat.  Advantage Reid.

Then again, if you look at the Senate rule in question, it appears that the signature of the secretary of state is only part of a “recommended form” for transmitting an appointment to the Senate, and so could be construed to be not strictly required.  Advantage Blago.

Or maybe not.  The Post story also tells us that the Democrats in the Senate could refer the matter to the Rules and Administration committee, ostensibly or really to investigate whether there was any corrupt bargain in the governor’s choice of Mr. Burris.  This could at least cause a delay long enough to enable the politicos in Illinois to get their act together and either legislate a special election or oust Blagojevich and pass the appointment power to the lieutenant governor.  Advantage Reid.

But as Brian Faughnan blogs at the Weekly Standard, the same Senate rule linked above makes the presentation of a new senator’s credentials a question of privilege–meaning that one senator, any senator at all, can cause the entire Senate to debate whether to seat Mr. Burris.  That would be fun to watch.  Advantage Blago.

Turning from the law to the politics, two seasoned Chicago Tribune newshounds view things differently.  Dennis Byrne thinks Blagojevich “might have miscalculated” and that Reid may prevail.

But John Kass thinks that the governor’s adroit playing of the race card in choosing Burris, aided by the appearance of Congressman Bobby Rush at yesterday’s press conference, will prove to be the winning hand.  “Senate Democrats are talking tough now, saying they won’t seat Burris, but that won’t hold,” Kass writes.

Kass takes the more cynical view, Byrne the more high-mindedly outraged.  Never bet against the cynical view in a case like this–or against Machiavellian Chicago when it confronts the mewling ideologies of Washington.

I’ll stick to my prediction from yesterday–that Blagojevich has called the bluff, and that Reid will fold.  Welcome to Washington, Senator Burris.

And here’s a new word for 2009: Blagojevism (pronounced Bluh-GOY-avism).  Definition: the last public wound inflicted on one’s enemies, by shameless exploitation of their vulnerabilities, while one’s own career is on the bobsled to oblivion.  I appeal to William Safire for its inclusion in his next dictionary.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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