One of the more interesting stories from the end of 2008 was the fall of Rod Blagojevich and his attempt to sell the vacant Senate seat left by Barack Obama. In the wake of Obama’s November resignation, the Senatorial seat from Illinois was to be appointed by the Governor, Blagojevich. As has now been made apparent from the allegations of the federal investigators, Blagojevich attempted to sell the seat to a number of upcoming politicians, including Jesse Jackson, Jr., a member of the House from Chicago and federal informant. Jackson had been reporting on Blagojevich’s suspected corruption for years, though he did not participate in any investigation into Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Obama’s Senate seat.
In the weeks that followed, the Illinois legislature has failed to impeach Blagojevich, has failed to construct a special election to fill Obama’s vacancy, and has otherwise wasted this time. The Senator from Illinois will have seniority determined based upon the date in which the vacancy is filled, which gives Illinois no opportunity to appoint a senator prior to the victors from the ’08 elections taking their seats. Blagojevich, un-impeached and still un-convicted, appointed Roland Burris to the position. The resultant outcry has been strident and loud; led by Senator Reid, the Majority leader in the Senate, Democrats have refused to acknowledge Burris’ credentials. Burris was refused entry to the Senate based upon his lack of the approving signature from Illinois’ secretary of state, Jesse White.
White has confirmed that he lacks the authority to fail to provide the approving signature1. However, White failed to provide the requisite approval based upon his desire to “make a statement.”
White’s failure to provide the necessary signature is morally wrong. As the secretary of state, White is duty bound to perform his role in accordance with the laws of Illinois and the United States. White’s knowing failure, though far less devastating than Jackson’s rejection of Worcester v. Georgia2, follows the same damning logic: an elected official with a duty must perform that duty or resign from the position. While Jackson’s civil rights abuses are orders of magnitude more damaging to American History than White’s willful violation of law, there will be no true consequences from his (in)action.
A nation of laws must enforce those laws, and rigorously. Elected officials who willfully fail to uphold those laws are degrading the value of the law. A clear corruption law should be mandated by Federal government, impacting all federal, state and local officials, requiring them to perform their duties and punishing them for willful failures.
However, given House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s goals, we may be seeing more corruption in the future.
1. White’s Opinion
2. 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515