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When All Else Fails, Rewrite The Rules

It’s becoming clear that Governor Blagojevich is history. The only questions remaining concern when and how he goes.

One of the proposed plans, though, might even be worse than the possibility of him remaining in office a little longer. It’s the proposal put forth by the state’s Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, who wants the state’s Supreme Court to  declare the governor “unfit” and have him removed from office.

This would be done through a law intended to cover a governor who has become disabled or impaired, and can not or will not remove himself from office. It’s similar in spirit to Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, passed after the assassination of President Kennedy, which deals with presidential disability.

The problem here is that, by the intent of the law as passed, Governor Blagojevich is not “disabled.” His predicament is not physical or mental or medical, but political. He is fully capable of carrying out his duties, and is doing so.

Further, there is already a mechanism for removing a sitting governor in Illinois. It’s called “impeachment,” and it is a power reserved to the Legislature, not to the Attorney General (a part of the Executive Branch) with the collusion of the Legislative.

This is, in a way, reminiscent of the 2002 Senate race in New Jersey. In the waning  days of September, it became clear that the Democratic nominee, Robert Torricelli, was going down in the flames of a campaign finance scandal. Unfortunately, it was past the deadline for changes in the ballot, so the Democrats were pretty much stuck with him.

Or maybe not. The Democrats went to the state Supreme Court and argued that Torricelli was “disabled” by the scandal. Under those circumstances, the Democrats sought to withdraw his name and substitute a new candidate.

The Republicans protested. They said that Torricelli’s “disability” was purely political. Torricelli was the legal nominee, the deadline had passed, and they had already invested heavily in competing against him. Allowing this last-minute switch would grant the Democrats a completely unfair and unjustifiable advantage in the campaign.

The Supreme Court was untouched by these arguments, and decided that “having one’s corruption exposed” qualified as a disability under the law. They removed Torricelli from the ballot and allowed the Democrats to substitute former senator Frank Lautenberg,  who handily reversed the poll trends and defeated Republican challenger Doug Forrester.

It was wrong when New Jersey stretched “disability” to include corruption, and it would be wrong for Illinois to follow that example. As noted, there are existing mechanisms for curtailing the governor’s powers and removing him from office, and those should be used.

Further, should Ms. Madigan’s plan succeed, a very, very dangerous precedent will be set:  the Supreme Court, with the collusion of at least one official from the Executive Branch, will have the power to remove the Governor from office. This is a clear violation of the system of checks and balances, which reserves that right for the legislature.

The unspoken motivation behind this is, of course, the “need” to keep the Blagojevich scandal from causing too much damage to his fellow Democrats. The longer he’s in office, the more people will associate his misdeeds with his party. Moreover, if he does exert his authority and appoints Obama’s successor in the Senate, that candidate will be thoroughly tainted and almost guaranteed a defeat in the next election. And if a special election is held in the shadow of the scandal, the Republicans’ chances of winning the seat will be the best they’ve had in years.

Here’s a radical thought: let’s follow the rules in Illinois. And if the rules don’t work well enough, then the people of Illinois can change them. They shouldn’t just toss the rules in the trash the first time they prove politically inexpedient.


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