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Illinois Supreme Court Tosses Burris Problem Back to Senate Dems (Updated)

6:00 PM, Jan 9, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Catch, Sen. Reid! The Illinois Supreme Court ruled today that Roland Burris' certification need not be signed by Secretary of State Jesse White, which means White will not be compelled to sign it:

Burris was handed an apparent victory when the court ruled that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White does not have to sign the certification paperwork by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, meaning Burris's appointment to the Senate last month is valid...

"Under the Secretary of State Act, the Secretary's sole responsibility was to register the appointment, which he did," wrote Judge Lloyd Karmeier in a nine-page opinion. "No further action is required by the secretary of state or any other official to make the governor's appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate valid under Illinois law."

Burris is celebrating, but his path to the Senate seat remains unclear given that the objection cited by Reid remains:

The Nevada Democrat said that the Senate's Rule II requires that "for a person to be appointed by a governor, you have to have the signature of the governor and the secretary of state." Otherwise the appointment is invalid, he said.

Fellow Illinoisan Sen. Dick Durbin has also made his position clear:

"Everyone has to present a certificate, signed by the governor, co-signed by the secretary of state - never been waived in the history of the United States Senate. So it's an important rule and one not easily challenged or changed."

Senate Democrats are squirming and lashing out at leadership, even citing Barack Obama's legendary stand-back-and-watch leadership as problematic:

Democratic sources say that Reid and Durbin underestimated the storm that would be caused by their attempt to deny a seat to a 71-year-old African-American.

"Reid operates in this tight, little circle with Durbin and [Sen. Charles] Schumer and [Sen. Patty] Murray," complained one veteran Democratic senator, granted anonymity to speak candidly. "He needs to talk to more people, and maybe these kinds of situations won't occur again."

Other Democratic insiders put some of the blame on Obama, complaining that he kept his distance from the Burris controversy then jumped in at the end to claim the mantle of peacemaker - much as he did in the flap over Sen. Joe Lieberman's support of Republican John McCain's presidential bid.

"A lot of people were pissed" with how the Burris situation was handled, said a Democratic source involved in the discussions.

Read the whole thing, which is a fascinating look at how this blew up in Democrats' faces in slow motion, as they all tried with varying degrees to simultaneously avoid the taints of either seating a Blago appointment or not seating the Senate's only black member. The short version is that they underestimated Blago's and Burris' willingness to play hardball, and the only man who had enough influence to control the whole thing stood back and watched, shifting from one tepid position to another as the imbroglio grew.

You know Democrats are mad when they start piling on Obama:

"If Obama had gotten involved earlier, "I don't think the situation would have unfolded this way," one Democrat said...

On Monday, Obama met with Reid to talk about the stimulus package. During that discussion, Obama reportedly told Reid that Burris should be seated. Obama's people subsequently leaked the details of the conversation in order to distance their boss from efforts to deny Burris the seat, a move that infuriated some Senate Democratic staffers.

Gotta love the 111th Congress.

In other news, it looks like Burris may have told the impeachment committee something different than an affdavit suggested about his communications with Blago:

For the first time, Burris indicated that he asked Blagojevich's former chief of staff and college classmate, Lon Monk, to relay his interest in the Senate seat to the governor last July or September.

"If you're close to the governor, you know, let him know I'm certainly interested in the seat," Burris said he told Monk.