Barack Obama loves to invoke the “rule of law” when it suits his political purposes, but not in the case of Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to Obama’s empty Senate seat. In the Burris case, politics apparently trumps the law.
There is no substantial legal dispute here. Harry Reid and other U.S. Senators have no right to refuse to seat an appointee merely because they do not like the appointer. I think the situation might be different if there were evidence that Burris bribed Blagojevich (in which case the Democrats could challenge whether there was a true appointment), but that is not the case here. Blagojevich’s appointment of Burris simply is politically inopportune for Democrats, and that is not enough to avoid what appears to be a constitutionally valid appointment.
Barack Obama supports Reid’s refusal to seat Burris. What does this say about Obama’s commitment to the “rule of law.” We heard about the “rule of law” ad nauseam during the campaign, as a means of attacking Bush policies on Gitmo, interrogation, and a myriad of other issues. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some constitutional protections applied to non-uniformed enemy combatants captured on the battlefield, Obama proclaimed that “this is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law.”
Apparently the “rule of law” stops at Obama’s political shores. Notice that Obama makes no legal argument against the Burris appointment. In his statement supporting Harry Reid’s refusal to seat Burris, Obama argues only that the appointment is not politically correct:
Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it. I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place. While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy.
It appears that the “rule of law” applies to Gitmo detainees, but not to Roland Burris because in the Gitmo case the politics helped Obama, while in the Burris case the politics hurt Obama. Much like campaign finance reform, Obama threw the “rule of law” overboard for political gain in the Burris case.