Friday, January 9, 2009

It's Become a Comedy

So now the Supreme Court of Illinois has issued this unanimous ruling that the state's Secretary of State has no legal duty to countersign and seal the certificate of Roland Burris's appointment as a U.S. Senator. The law of Illinois requires the Secretary "To countersign and affix the seal of state to all commissions required by law to be issued by the Governor," but the court held that the certificate is not a "commission required by law to be issued by the Governor." The court held that Burris's appointment is complete when the Governor makes it by open, unequivocal act, and that the certificate is merely evidence of the appointment; it is not a "commission." The court agreed with my previous suggestion that the Senate rules, although assuming that secretaries of state will sign certificates of election and appointment, do not actually require such signatures.

The ruling was unanimous, so I guess it must be a fair reading of Illinois law, but it sure seems silly to me. Even accepting that the appointment is complete when the Governor makes it, the Senate understands its rules to require a certain degree of evidence of the appointment. The Illinois Supreme Court pointed out (again consistently with my view) that the Constitution empowers the Governor to make the appointment and that the Senate rules can't require the approval of anyone else. But even accepting that, it's not completely outrageous for the Senate to require certain evidence that the Governor has made the appointment.

I can't imagine why a state's lawmakers would want to throw such an impediment in the way of having its Senators be recognized as not to require the state Secretary of State to coutnersign and seal the certificate in the way the Senate rules contemplate. I presume that the Secretary of State signed all the certificates for all of the state's previous Senators since the Senate rules started requiring it (in 1884, according to the majority leader). Why did he do that, if it wasn't legally required?

This would have been a good case for broad construction of the term "commission." The Illinois Supreme Court is effectively giving the Secretary of State the power to veto the Senate appointment. Saying that the appointment is valid and the U.S. Senate should accept it, but not requiring the Secretary of State to sign the certificate, seems a little bizarre.

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