It seems the Senate Democratic leadership is freaking out about the Burris nomination, not so much over Burris himself but over Blago's appointment of anyone to the seat. If I understand things correctly, Democrats are worried that anyone appointed by Blagojevich will be so tainted that they'd have no chance to keep the seat in Democrat hands in the 2010 election.
So once again with the Democrats, it's a matter of party over principle. Blagojevich remains Governor of Illinois. He's been charged with crimes, but as yet remains not only unconvicted but unindicted. And Patrick Fitzgerald - the federal prosecutor investigating Blago - has just requested a 90 day extension on the deadline for filing an indictment with a grand jury. As Governor, Blago still has duties to discharge, and one of those duties is to appoint a replacement to congress in the event of death or resignation of one of his state's representatives or senators.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to deny Burris' seating under Article 1, Section 5 of the constitution, which reads:
Section 5: Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.It's the bolded part that leads Harry Reid to believe he can keep Blago's appointee out of the senate. But here's what the constitution says about senate qualifications:
Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.
Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.
Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.Now I've got nowhere near enough self-loathing to be a lawyer, but it seems pretty clear to me that Roland Burris meets the constitutional definition of qualification. But that doesn't matter to Democrats who'll engage in any kind of chicanery necessary to keep a senate seat in the hands of the Democrats.
Update: A couple of law professors say the senate can refuse to seat Burris on the basis of judging the "returns" laid out in Article 1, Section 5 if they can legitimately say they believe he was selected under dubious circumstances.