The Gift That Keeps On Giving
For those teaching Constitutional Law this semester, then-Governor Blagojevich’s Senate appointment of Roland Burris is a gift that keeps on giving (for Illinois citizens, not so much). The Washington Post is reporting that Senator Burris “has acknowledged trying to raise money for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich before being appointed to the Senate. According to a transcript posted on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site, Burris told reporters Monday night in Peoria that after the ex-governor’s brother called him, he talked to some friends about putting together a fundraiser.”
This offers a terrific opportunity to introduce students to the Constitution’s little-discussed Article I, section 5, clause 2, which provides simply that each House may “with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” So long as two thirds of the Senate were to agree, expulsion could be premised on any reason — including, but not limited to, suspicion of a quid pro quo for the Senate seat — or even no reason at all, since the Constitution does not delineate permissible justifications for expulsion. In other words, members of Congress serve at the will of their colleagues –protected only by the supermajority’s extremely high political bar.
The more contentious constitutional question remains whether the Senate could have refused to seat Burris as an initial matter, citing the provision that “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members.” For a reminder of some of the arguments pro and con, see here, here, and here.