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Senate Dems Say Burris Appointment Rests With State Supreme Court

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Senate Dems Say Burris Appointment Rests With State Supreme Court

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senate Democrats are deferring to the Illinois Supreme Court to determine the future of Roland Burris. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin met with the former Illinois Attorney General this morning. Both emerged from the meeting making positive comments about Burris. Ultimately they said Burris’ ability to assume Illinois’ vacant senate seat will rest on the state’s Supreme Court, and with Secretary of State Jesse White who has refused to sign off on the Burris’ appointment.

Burris was appointed to the senate seat vacated by President elect Barack Obama by scandal-contaminated Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. From the beginning, senate leaders promised to reject the Burris appointment. They said their opposition had little to do with Burris, but they objected to any appointment made by Blagojevich. Blagojevich faces federal corruption charges for influence peddling. Among other allegations, the governor is accused of trying to sell the senate seat for personal gain.

Burris’ appointment was criticized by officials from both parties. In Illinois, Secretary of State White refused to sign the paperwork certifying Blagojevich’s decision. Burris proceeded to create a media spectacle, making several appearances in Illinois claiming the seat and promising to travel to Washington and take it. Yesterday in Washington, Burris added to that spectacle when he went to the senate chamber and attempted to enter to be sworn in. Senate officials said because White had not signed Burris’ certification it would not be accepted.

Late yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein broke with her Democratic colleagues and sent a signal that the opposition might be breaking down. Feinstein heads the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees matters pertaining to membership. She said there were no significant means to prevent Burris from assuming the seat, and that holding up his appointment could set a problematic precedent.

Reid and Durbin also attempted to address the racial overtones that have entered the controversy. Mister Obama was the only African-American in the senate. Blagojevich has historically enjoyed strong support among black voters, but that support had waned recently as his popularity plummeted overall. When he appointed Burris to assume the vacant seat, Blagojevich and others raised the issue of race. That lead to speculation about difficulties the largely-white senate would have turning Burris away, and to speculation about how Blagojevich’s decision might curry favor with African-Americans.

Following their meeting with Burris, Reid and Durbin both sought to extinguish the racial overtones of the standoff. They said Burris was not concerned about the racial dynamics of the tension, and both downplayed its relevance.

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