Harry Reid, U.S. Senate Majority Leader, needlessly has created a potential constitutional crisis over the seating of Roland Burris, the lawful appointee of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to Barack Obama’s open Senate seat. Reid, out of sheer ego, insists that he will refuse to seat Burris because Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White refuses to sign a certification, in a form recommended but not required by Senate Rule 2.

After the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that no such certification was required in order for Burris to be deemed the lawful appointee, Reid (and his sidekick, Illinois Senator Richard “Dick” Durbin) refused to relent, insisting the Burris will not be seated without a Rule 2 certificate.

Now, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who refused to sign a Rule 2 certification precipitating the Illinois Supreme Court lawsuit, has signed a non-Rule 2 certification, posted on the blog site of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet. While the certificate is somewhat hard to read in the photo, reports indicate the certificate acknowledges that Blagojevich’s letter appointing Burris is on file with the Secretary of State and is “true and accurate.”

Burris is considering a federal lawsuit if Reid continues to refuse to seat Burris. This will present an interesting constitutional question as to the power of the Senate to refuse to seat lawfully appointed Senators who otherwise meet the constitutional qualifications. On the one hand, Reid and a small number of law professors argue that Senate power over seating members is unlimited and not subject to judicial review. Many others (including me) argue that the Senate power is limited to the issue of whether a Senator meets the constitutional qualifications; otherwise, appointments and elections become merely advisory subject to the whim of the majority party.

This has all the makings of a true constitutional crisis, at a time when a single vote in the Senate may decide the fate of important legislation. Politically, I’m happy to have one less Democrat in the Senate; constitutionally, I think Harry Reid should not create a needless crisis over a legally meaningless piece of paper.

Update 1-10-2009, 4:28 p.m.: A reader e-mailed me with the following observation:

The document on Lynn Sweet’s blog appears to be the certificate for Barack Obama’s election to the Senate in 2004, signed by Blagojevich and White, which she posted for comparison purposes (to show what a typical Rule 2 certificate looks like). It would be interesting to see a copy of the document that White signed yesterday. If it has been described correctly, it would almost (but not literally) comply with Senate Rule 2.

Why hasn’t Jesse White posted the document he signed on his website? After making such a big show over his refusal to sign, doesn’t he owe it to the nation to release the document promptly?

Update 1-11-2009, 8:40 a.m.: Here is a copy of the document issued by Jesse White. (h/t CapitolFax Blog) It simply is a certification of a state record, namely the certificate issued by Blagojevich appointing Burris. The document is not in the form recommended by Senate Rule 2, so the document does not satisfy the demands of Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, unless they choose to change their demands to save political face.


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