Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s surprise appointment yesterday of Roland Burris to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama has received uniformly negative reviews. No one, it seems, is content to let this appointment stand. The conventional wisdom is that Blagojevich’s arrest for trying to sell the open Senate seat means that any appointment by Blagojevich is illegitimate.
Admittedly, everyone is outraged—or wants to be seen as outraged—at Blagojevich’s apparent corruption. The legal or logical case against the appointment, however, is just short of nonexistent. Has Blagojevitch lost his moral authority to govern? As one famous politician might say, you betcha. Nonetheless, Blagojevitch is still innocent until proven guilty, and there has been no trial. To my knowledge, no Illinois statute requires the governor to relinquish his power upon arrest or indictment. Like it or not, Blagojevich is still the governor and has every legal right to appoint Burris. Whether he has the moral right is somewhat beside the point. Various legal moves might be able to delay Burris’s taking a Senate seat, but I don’t see that any person or body has the legal right to undo the appointment.
Now that politicians have had their opportunity to establish their ethical credentials by denouncing the Senate appointment, it is time for everyone—Democrats, anyway—to recognize that the governor has done them a big favor. The appointment creates a win-win situation. Blagojevitch, by appointing a seemingly qualified person with no connection to the appointment-selling controversy, enhances the credibility of his otherwise dubious claim of innocence. Illinois gets the representation in the Senate to which it is entitled. The Democrats get a much-needed additional vote in that body, not to mention a rare black face among a sea of white ones. And all our lawmakers can get back to the more important business of saving us from Great Depression II.
On the negative side, of course, the Republicans lose an issue if the Burris appointment stands. They will, I predict, find others.
Illinois legislators may feel compelled to move forward with impeachment proceedings against the governor. One can make a case for the appropriateness of doing so, though even impeachment will not undo whatever actions Blagojevich has taken as governor before he might be removed from office.
As far as the Senate appointment itself goes, however, my recommendation is that everyone just let it be.