PI Original Josh Kalven Wednesday December 10th, 2008, 9:31am

The Blagojevich Dilemma: What's The Next Move?

After yesterday's tumultous events, Gov. Rod Blagojevich still controls Illinois government this morning. There are many across the state -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- who are now trying to figure out how to take away the reins of power as quickly as possible. What ...

After yesterday's tumultous events, Gov. Rod Blagojevich still controls Illinois government this morning. There are many across the state -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- who are now trying to figure out how to take away the reins of power as quickly as possible. What have emerged are three possible scenarios in which Blagojevich exits the governor's mansion (figuratively speaking) in the near term. They are: a decision by the governor himself to resign, a decision by the General Assembly to impeach him, or a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court to remove him from office. I examine each of these avenues in more detail below.

Resignation

A loud chorus of public officials from both sides of the aisle are calling for Blagojevich to step down. But somehow that seems unlikely to happen. Robert Rich gives one reason why:

Robert Rich, director of the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said he doubts Blagojevich would resign, partly because it might make him look guilty.

There is also a provision in the state constitution that allows the governor to step aside temporarily if he believes himself to be "seriously impeded in the exercise of his powers." Again, an unlikely scenario.

Impeachment

The General Assembly is convening next week to attempt to strip Blagojevich of his power to appoint Barack Obama's Senate successor. But Speaker Michael Madigan and other Democratic lawmakers indicated yesterday that they are open to possible impeachment proceedings. Still, there may be some potential problems down this road.

One is the duration of such an undertaking. Bethany Jaeger talked to professor Kent Redfield about this issue:

Kent Redfield, political scientist with the University of Illinois at Springfield, estimated that impeachment proceedings also would take at least a month to conduct. Just like a court case, the process would involve forming an investigation, gathering evidence, calling witnesses and prosecuting and defending the charges. It would be hard to do quickly and shouldn’t be done quickly if the General Assembly wants to ensure due process, he said.

In the meantime, Redfield said the House speaker and the new Senate president could try to “govern around the governor.”

The time required for the impeachment process would also likely run up against the end of the session, as the State Journal-Register reports:

But Madigan spokesman Steve Brown cautioned there are several complications to proceeding with impeachment, including timing.

A new legislature will be sworn in Jan. 14, and if impeachment proceedings start before then, there’s a question of whether they could continue with new lawmakers or have to start over.

Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said the timing issue is why legislators might wait a few weeks to push impeachment.

Meanwhile, Robert Rich sees this scenario playing out:

Rich also doubts the Legislature would remove Blagojevich from office.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and incoming Senate President John Cullerton wouldn't want to be seen as interfering with the federal court process, he argued.

He predicts Blagojevich will stay in office and have a seat at the table in Springfield, but that Madigan and Cullerton will gain new influence over the shape of the budget and other top issues.

Supreme Court Rule 382

Beyond impeachment or resignation, there is another possibility that has been floated by both Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan. A rarely-used Supreme Court rule -- #382, to be exact -- appears to allow the justices to remove a sitting governor if they doubt "the ability of the governor to serve."

From the Sun-Times:

[Lisa Madigan] is prepared to invoke an obscure Illinois Supreme Court rule under which the state's seven justices could vote to oust a sitting governor deemed unfit for office. [...]

The state Constitution doesn't explicitly indicate an officeholder can be ousted by the court or by impeachment if that person faces criminal charges. Instead, the Constitution uses terms such as "failure to qualify" or "disability" in laying out causes to impeach someone.

The Supreme Court rule allowing justices to wade into the issue of gubernatorial fitness is even less defined, saying only that the court has authority to determine "the ability of the governor to serve."

This avenue is apparently dependent on someone filing a petition with the high court to have the governor removed. Apparently, Madigan is ready to fill that role if neither of the first two options seem unlikely.

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