Defiant Blagojevich names Obama successor

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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday defiantly anointed his own replacement for Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, raising the stakes for a constitutional showdown with lawmakers and unexpectedly injecting the issue of race into a corruption drama that has complicated the president-elect’s transition.

Mr. Blagojevich brazenly named former state Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the seat left empty by Mr. Obama, but Senate Democratic leaders said they would try to refuse to seat Mr. Burris, who is black, solely because of the corruption charges filed against the governor early this month.

An angry Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat, replied that Senate colleagues had better not block Mr. Burris, arguing that the all-white Senate would not want to be seen obstructing the only black member of the Senate from taking a seat, particularly because it’s Mr. Obama’s old slot.

“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 for being seated in the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Rush told reporters at the press conference that Mr. Blagojevich called to announce the Burris appointment.

But Mr. Obama himself said Mr. Burris, despite his record of accomplishment, cannot be seated.

“Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it,” the president-elect said in a statement while vacationing in Hawaii.

Senate Associate Historian Donald A. Ritchie said there’s no telling what will happen if Mr. Burris does try to take the seat when Congress convenes next week and senators try to block him.

“I’ll be darned if I can find a precedent,” he said.

In a joint statement issued just before the press conference, Senate Democratic leaders said they would reject Mr. Burris and indicated that they would make use of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 5 power that says the two houses of Congress can determine whom they seat.

“Anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus,” said Democratic leaders, including Illinois’ senior senator, Richard J. Durbin, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Some lawyers and political scientists said Democrats may be wrong in assuming that they can refuse to seat someone duly appointed by the laws of his state.

“The Supreme Court case of Powell v. McCormack (1969) is clear that when judging the ‘qualifications’ of members, each house is limited to age, citizenship and residency qualifications. Burris meets all of these,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University.

However, the 1969 case dealt with an elected member of the House, while Mr. Burris was appointed in concurrence with Illinois law that requires the governor to fill the post.

A spokesman for Mr. Reid said the 1969 case doesn’t apply because senators are not judging the appointee himself, but rather the selection process.

Senators could decide to expel Mr. Burris, but there’s no modern precedent for that and it could ignite a protracted constitutional struggle.

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