Seat Burris–if not appointed by Blago

Easy way to solve the Burris problem: have Pat Quinn promise to appoint him once Blagojevich is out. (Update: no, morality requires not seating him at all–but the constitution, it seems, requires seating him right away.)

Here’s a clever solution to the Burris problem (the problem being that many African-Americans think Burris should be seated, almost all white people think any Blagojevich appointee is hopelessly tainted, and the Republicans are of course rejoicing in the difference). No doubt it’s too clever, but here goes:

(1) Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn says that while it was a mistake for Blagojevich to appoint Burris and a mistake for Burris to accept, his beef is with Blago, not Burris, and that if Blagojevich resigns or is removed from office he, Quinn, plans as a goodwill gesture to appoint Burris himself.

(2) Harry Reid and other Senate leaders say that they’d seat Burris in a heartbeat if this happened–but will do everything in their power to prevent his being seated as a Blago appointee.

(3) Burris (presumably) says waiting to be appointed by Quinn is fine with him, since he’s already on record as attacking Blagojevich’s corruption.

(4) The Illinois legislature does its job, impeaching Blagojevich and removing him from office in short order. (Or Blago acquires a sense of public duty and resigns, but I’m not holding my breath.)

(5) Burris soon takes office.

This seems to solve everything. Blago is left with no possible argument; the national Democrats avoid offending an important constituency; Bobby Rush is left with no tub to thump; the Senate gets an African-American member (important, actually, and by no means a sure thing in other scenarios), and we get to move on.

I’m sure there’s a flaw. Anyone care to blog or email me saying what it is?

Update: I got a lot of responses to this, almost all of them thoughtful–and many thanks for them. Most fell into two categories: (1) The Dems can’t seat Burris because this would taint them with the corruption (as well as gross incompetence) of the Blagojevich administration; Flynn has to be allowed to make a fresh pick. Alternatively, (2) The Dems have to seat Burris because he has a strong legal case; the Senate could delay things but this would only be a huge distraction from Obama’s agenda. These are both good points. But given that they’re finely balanced, they seem points in favor of my original proposal, not against. The firm stance against seating Burris the Blago appointee–while accepting Burris under any other circumstance–would humiliate Blagojevich and mask the taint. And the willingness to accept Burris as a Flynn appointee would provide the right incentives both to Burris (to keep quiet and wait) and to the Illinois legislature (to get rid of Blago very quickly).

Two things, however, spoil the whole scheme. First, as two readers pointed out, Burris once tried (at some length) to execute a man he knew was innocent. I knew that Burris was no likely standout as a senator, but this is too much. Burris should be disbarred (at least), not seated. Second, it now seems pretty clear (see here, here, and here) that Burris will be seated as is: both Reid and Obama are caving. Apparently, nobody believes in the proposition (advanced forcefully by Akhil Reed Amar and Josh Chafetz) that the Senate has power to keep Burris out, so everyone, in accord with reader stream #2, is determined to let him in, with as little fuss and bad blood as possible.

So having found out that morality demands one outcome, I’ve quickly discovered that the damn Constitution will almost certainly force another. File under “sausages, manufacture of,” I guess. All hail the junior attempted murderer from Illinois.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.