Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Leg to Grandstand On

OK, I did a little basic research (which I should have done before posting yesterday), and, what do you know, Illinois does have an unusual setup that gives at least some color to state Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request that the state Supreme Court remove the Governor from office.  But I still think there's an element of grandstanding about it.

Here's the skinny:  Section 6(d) of Illinois's state constitution does indeed provide that the state Supreme Court shall, as provided by state law, or under its own rules in the absence of such a law, have jurisdiction to determine whether the Governor should be removed from office because of "death, conviction on impeachment, failure to qualify, resignation, or other disability."  That's the provision that Attorney General Madigan cites in her extensive filing with the Illinois Supreme Court asking it to remove the Governor.

So Madigan does actually have a leg to stand on.  But I'm still thinking it's more like a leg to grandstand on.  Even Madigan admits in her filing that the history of the Illinois constitutional provision, as shown by an exchange at the Illinois constitutional convention, suggests that the term "disability" is limited, as one would most naturally expect, to a physical or mental disability that prevents the Governor from discharging the functions of his office.  She claims, however, that the "plain meaning" of the term encompasses anything, including a political problem, that prevents the Governor from serving effectively.

I'm sorry, I just don't buy it.  The fundamental problem is that a court is ill-equipped to make such a political judgment.  Sure, the current case seems pretty clear, but what about the fact that the Governor had a 13% approval rating even before the scandal broke?  Would we want a state court making a judgment about whether such a low approval rating was a "disability" that prevented the Governor from serving?  I don't think so.

The strong tradition, certainly at the federal level and in every state I've ever heard of, is that the situation of a crooked chief executive is handled by impeachment, which is vested in a political body, not a court.  Illinois is free to depart from that tradition, but it would take much clearer language than "other disability" to convince me that it had done so.

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