Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First Day of School

The 111th Congress convened yesterday.

On the Senate side, the biggest issues involve the vacant Senate seats from Illinois and Minnesota.

The Senate has rejected Roland Burris's certificate of appointment because it was not signed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. White refuses to sign, because he opposes having Gov. Rod Blagojevich make any appointment to the Senate seat that the governor is accused of having tried to sell.

I'm not a lawyer, and have not researched the law on this topic. But it seems to me that the signature requirement is not intended to allow a secretary of state to veto a governor's choice. Burris has commenced legal action to overcome the obstacles to his being seated in the Senate and, on that particular point, seems to be on solid legal ground.

However, he still faces the Constitution's elections, returns and qualifications clause that I discussed here in the context of the Minnesota case. As noted in that post, the courts have refused to second-guess the houses of Congress when they make decisions under that clause. Perhaps, if the Senate so desired, it could block Burris's appointment, even without citing a legal technicality such as the signature requirement.

This article in Politico describes how Senate Democrats' political will might be weakening on that question.

Regarding the disputed Minnesota election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, the Senate is, for the time being at least, laying back, pending Coleman's court challenge to the recount that found Franken to be the winner. If push comes to shove, I suppose that the Senate's constitutional authority could trump that of the judicial branch, and the Senate might act to seat Franken at some point. However, Franken still does not have a certificate of election from Minnesota, so the Senate's Democratic majority will apparently need to wait at least a little while before taking any such action.

My gut feeling is that Franken will eventually emerge as the winner, but there is no certainty as to whether that will happen and, if so, how long it will take.

There were no such personnel issues on the House side. The biggest story over there was the adoption of the House's rules for the 111th Congress. One change is that they abolished the six-year term limit on committee chairmen that was imposed when the Republicans took control of the House in 1995. I wrote about that issue in this post regarding the congressional seniority system.

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