Wednesday, January 7, 2009


As Roland Burris, the self-styled junior Senator from Illinois, was turned away from the Senate floor yesterday, mobs of adoring fans surrounded the Capitol, chanting "RO-land! RO-land! RO-land!" and waiving placards with such slogans as "We're Rolling for Roland!" and "Burnish a Spot for Burris!"

In his dreams. Actually, Burris's credentials were rejected by the Secretary of the Senate on the ground that they are signed only by the Illinois Governor, not by the Illinois Secretary of State (who refused to sign them). Do the Senate Rules really require a signature by the Secretary of State?

Answer: Sort of. Rule II of the Senate Rules assumes and implies that a Senator's credentials will be signed by both a state's Governor and its Secretary of State, but it doesn't absolutely say that they must be. The rule states that the Secretary of the Senate shall keep a "wellbound book" of Senators' credentials in which the Secretary shall record "the name of the governor and the secretary of state signing and countersigning the same." And the rule provides recommended forms, to be sent to each state's Governor and Secretary of State, for use as credentials, which call for signature by those two officials.

But the rule doesn't absolutely say that such signature is required. It doesn't exclude the possibility that the Secretary of the Senate might have occasion to write "none" in the place for the name of the Secretary of State of a particular state.

After all, there's no law that says every state must have a Secretary of State. What if some state chooses to abolish that position? Then what? Is that state forbidden to have Senators?

And the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution does provide that "the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct." This gives some credence to Burris's contention that the Governor has the sole authority to make the appointment and the Secretary of State cannot block it.

So while the Secretary of the Senate has a reasonable basis for refusing to accept Mr. Burris's credentials, Burris also has a pretty good argument that he's been appointed and should be seated. I think the Secretary of the Senate is right not to accept the credentials on her own initiative -- the Senate should decide whether they are valid in this unusual situation. But if I were a Senator I would feel obliged to vote that he should be seated. I might then vote to expel him, but that's a different story.

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