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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What's The Rush To Remove Roland Burris?

Roland Burris has offered changing accounts of his communications with emissaries of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the weeks leading up to Blagojevich's appointment of Burris to Barack Obama's open Senate seat. These changing accounts, including an updated Affidavit filed by Burris with the Illinois House impeachment committee, have led to accusations that Burris committed perjury at worst, obstruction of justice at best.

Based on the accusations against Burris, various politicians and newspapers have called on Burris to resign. But what's the rush? If Burris is guilty of a crime, he will be charged and convicted. As of now, he is not even charged. Lisa Madigan, the Illinois Attorney General, is investigating, and if she feels that criminal charges are warranted, I'm sure she will bring such charges.

Perjury can be a difficult thing to prove, and my initial reading of the transcripts is that it may not be so clear cut. By offering a corrective affidavit, Burris may have "purged" any perjury as a matter of law.

Similarly, the U.S. Senate is commencing an ethics investigation. Let that investigation run its course, and if there are grounds and enough votes to remove Burris under Senate Rules, then Burris will be removed. As of now, there does not appear to be evidence of a quid pro quo for the appointment, but let's see what the evidence holds.

The rush to rush Burris out of office is another troubling slide down the road where the mere accusation of a crime leads prosecutors, newspapers, and politicians to demand that office holders resign. If Burris committed no crime, and is not removed by the U.S. Senate, the electorate still gets its vote in the next election cycle, which is less than two years away. If Burris can't convince the electorate, then he will be removed the way politicians normally are removed from office, by popular vote.

The problem with substituting prosecutorial, editorial, and political discretion for the normal electoral process is that such a process is arbitrary. Only those deemed politically unworthy are forced from office. If Roland Burris lied to get into office, what about all the other politicians who lied during campaigns. Should they be removed from office as well?

If the difference here is that Burris lied under oath, then there are remedies -- both legal and legislative -- to address such a lie. Let the process work.

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