Roland Burris and the Senate issue

By | Jan 8, 2009

The recent controversy over the ‘junior senator from Illinois’ and his appointment to the Senate by the Illinois Governor Blagojevich is an interesting case and reminds me of many similar cases that have occured in more senior legislatures, such as English House of Commons.  Although I have very little understanding of the procedures of the United States Senate, I believe I have a grasp on the issue.  I see this as a question of professional ethics versus morality.

Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris legally to the Senate using his powers as as governor of the State.  However, the Governor himself is under investigation for corruption  (specifically for attempting to sell that very same appointment).  Although Mr. Burris is not under any investigation himself, the appointment has been tainted under the circumstances of which it was given.  The Illinois Governor, however, has not yet been empeached and even though he has lost his federal security clearances he is still the legal authority.

Therefore, Roland Burris is techically the Senator from Illinois and probably has a right to be recognized as such.  That is the ETHICAL thing to do.  But it is not the moral thing to do – he is an unelected man (he has actually ran and lost before) appointed under questionable circumstances and really can’t make a legitimate claim to the position.  He doesn’t have a moral ground to stand on – the issue of ethics versus morality plays into this.  The Senate has taken the moral ground here, good on them, but has not taking the legal and proffesional ethics ground.

Let me explain what I mean: ethically the Senate is responsible to maintain the rule of the law – they make it after all – and to maintain the respectability of the institution.  Just as a priest must keep crimes confessed to him confidential, so to is the Senate required to follow the law and until a court rules the appointment illegitimate, Roland Burris should be allowed into the Senate.

However, morally, as I’ve explained, Burris does not belong in the Senate right now, at least until the conditions under which he arrived there are corrected.  Although technically legitimate, Burris cannot really claim to maintain the respectability of the position or institution by taking a seat.

The correct solution would have been for Roland Burris to step down himself, taking the moral ground, and seek an election.  If I was in his position I would not want to strongarm my way in on a technicality anyway – he probably would not last long and would not carry the respect of his fellow Senators.  Somehow I do not think we will see Burris win an election now after the way this situation has been handled.

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