Can the Senate Refuse to Seat Blagojevich’s Appointee?
Politico and MSNBC are reporting that the Senate Democratic leadership is indicating its refusal to seat Roland Burris, who Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich today indicated he will appoint to fill President-Elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
I’m not sure where the Senate Democratic leadership thinks it gets the authority to not seat Burris. Under Powell v. McCormack, the ability of the Senate to exclude someone would seem to be limited to judging that he hadn’t won the election (not applicable here) or that he is not qualified (30 years old, a resident of Illinois, and a U.S. citizen for nine years). Their discomfort with Burris’s appointer doesn’t enter into it.
Presumably, they could seat Burris and then expel him, but that would require a 2/3 vote, which would be hard to muster given that, by all accounts today, Burris is personally unobjectionable.
My best guess is that the Senate Democratic leadership would argue that the Senate’s authority to judge the elections of its members extends by analogy to judging the appointments of its members; and that a corrupt election would be cause to not seat someone, so a corrupt appointment should be too. But surely this sort of determination would require some sort of investigation rather than a conclusion that Burris is unfit for office (even if the Senate could get away with this constitutionally, it shouldn’t try to). Burris has not been connected to the corruption case as far as I know. What are the odds that Blagojevich would appoint him corruptly in the middle of this investigation?
If I were a leader in the Senate, I would confer with Sen. Durbin and Illinois state officials, and see what they think. I might hold some hearings to find out more about the circumstances of Burris’s selection. But I would not say that the Senate can just refuse to seat Burris.