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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has named a successor to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat, but Democratic leaders who control the Senate say they will refuse to seat Blagojevich’s pick, former state Attorney General Roland Burris.
Here are some questions and answers about the power of the Senate to seat Obama’s successor.
Q: What is the Senate’s authority to seat or not seat an appointee like Burris?
A: The Constitution makes the Senate the ultimate arbiter of a senator’s qualification and election when it says, in Article I, Section 5, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members …"
Q: But doesn’t a state’s governor decide who should fill a Senate vacancy?
A: The Constitution allows governors, if they are authorized by state legislatures, to appoint a senator in the event of a vacancy to serve until the next general election.
Some states restrict this authority; for example, Massachusetts, Arizona and Wyoming require someone be chosen from the same party as his or her predecessor. (Alaska lawmakers rescinded this power altogether after Republican Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa to his Senate seat after he became governor in 2002.)
In any case, the Senate has final say over whether a governor’s pick should be allowed to serve in the Senate.
Q: On what grounds may the Senate refuse to seat Burris?
A: Technically, the Senate doesn’t need a specific reason; it sets its own standards for who may serve. But in this case, senators have a rule they might cite requiring an appointment be signed both by the governor and by the secretary of state. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he will refuse to sign any Blagojevich appointment.
Q: If the Senate refuses to seat Burris, does he or anyone else have any recourse?
A: Possibly. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. sued after the House refused to seat him in 1967 over corruption allegations. Because Powell was qualified and had won election to his seat, the Supreme Court overruled the House, and Powell returned to the chamber.
Q: There is disagreement among Senate Democrats over whether Burris should be seated. What if the Senate can’t agree?
A. The Senate has, when refusing to seat an appointee, referred the matter to the Rules Committee for investigation. The Senate sent the 1974 New Hampshire Senate race to the Rules Committee after the close race between Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin, after two recounts, could not be decided.
Q. What would Burris do in the meantime?
A: It is possible Burris could be granted floor privileges or office privileges during that time.
Q: What happens if Blagojevich is removed and a new governor appoints a different person to the Senate seat?
A: It still would be up to the Senate to determine which person should be seated.
Associated Press writer Christopher Wills in Chicago contributed to this report.