Roland Burris: Federalism's Latest Test Case

By Tommy De SenoAttorney/Writer

Happy New Year, America. Time to decide if you want to give even more power away to the federal government. This time we're asking about your right to vote for your own representatives.

The media is captivated by whether it's LEGAL for the U.S. Senate to refuse to seat Blago's pick Roland Burris. What a bore. Stop all the hand wringing because legally they can't refuse him.

The Illinois Secretary of State has to certify Burris' appointment because it's not discretionary; it's a ministerial obligation. He's refused to do so, but Burris' lawyers are going to win that lawsuit faster than President George W. Bush dodged a shoe.

The Senate may constitutionally refuse to seat Burris only if they can pass one of three tests:

  • Prove he isn't 30 years old (fail)
  • Hasn't been a citizen for 9 years (fail)
  • Wasn't an inhabitant of Illinois when appointed (fail).


The Senate may do what they did with Senator Mary Landrieu (D - La.), whom they didn't want to seat in 1996 because of fraud in her election. They seated her temporarily while the Rules Committee investigated the situation for 10 months. They let her stay and they'll let Burris stay too -- because they have to. Blago is innocent until proven guilty and Burris is guilty of nothing.

The temporary seating of Roland Burris will also help Democrats avoid the embarrassment of having to revert back to their old Bull Connor days, by stopping the only Black senator at the door with dogs and a fire hose.

So forget the legal issue of whether the Senate has the power to not seat Burris.

More important is this: Would we WANT the Senate to have the power to refuse a state's choice of its own representative? Do you want someone other than you to choose your representatives?

Make no mistake Burris is Illinois' choice. The 17th Amendment allows Blagojevich to make the pick.

Blago's pick has raised a most important issue that we Americans too infrequently debate (probably because the mainstream media doesn't pick up on it).

The issue is Federalism and State's Rights.

Federalism is a yardstick -- use it to measure whether government power is balanced between the federal government and state governments. Too much power to the Feds and you get a Unitarian system. To much power to the States and you get a Confederacy.

The debate over who ought to have more power first burned bright when America was born, with Alexander Hamilton leading the charge for a strong federal government on national defense and commerce. Thomas Jefferson was the most notable opposition, fearing a return to monarchy should the states, gathered together as a republic, cede too much power to the Feds. Both sought the Federalist balance, but disagreed where the center was.

Since then the two sides have had a tug of war throughout American history, occasionally pulling power back and forth between the State and Federal government, defining the current state of Federalism.

Blagojevich and Burris have unwittingly put Federalism up for change.

Before 1913 the Constitution called for Senators to be appointed by state legislatures. Senators have 6-year terms and therefore are not so swayed by public opinion. That tilts toward federal power. The 17th Amendment allowed the people to elect their senators, pulling power back to the people; a clear State's Rights shift.

Why in the world would any American want a federal Senate that could block the seating of their Constitutionally-elected or appointed Senator? If we did we would cede our power of self-representation to the whims of senators from other states who do not know us or care for us. Like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example.

Reid is leading the charge to block Burris, and we are finding out now that he may be motivated by his own interests -- he called Blagojevich and demanded someone different be appointed.

We Americans take our representation in government very seriously. Our country was founded because the British denied us that very thing. When we see a form of "taxation without representation" coming, we start throwing tea parties in Boston and writing complaints against King George like the following into Declarations of Independence:

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

The media is so enthralled with beating up Blago (deservedly) that they are missing the bigger story -- Democrats are pondering a shift in Federalism against States Rights and toward tyrannical despotism not seen on these shores since King George. They want the power to appoint our representatives.

Harry Reid and the Dummycrats are scary, and the media better start paying attention.

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