Actually, The Rules Finally Apply

Although it is poor taste to welcome a blogmate with a disagreement, I am afraid I must disagree with my friend Andrew Ritchie’s first post on YesWeMight. Andrew, who worked as a field organizer and tech guy for Obama in Indiana and has plenty of interesting things to say, argues that Roland Burris successfully inheriting Barack Obama’s former seat in the US Senate is an example of “change” gone prematurely awry. Even prior to the inauguration, Obama supporters are pointing to actions made on the basis of political expediency as the lack of radical change that Obama was articulating. Whether it is the appointment of cabinent officials with imperfect voting records, refusing to fight Burris’ appointment, or subtle articulations of support for current administration policies, the tranisiton has faced some pre-emptive criticism on the left.

However, in this case, I think the criticism is unwarranted and points to one of the pitfalls facing the left in it’s attempts to goad Obama into a more progressive agenda. We on the left must be able to make the distinction between things happening that we don’t like, and things happening the wrong way. Ritchie argues that failing to “stand up” to Burris’ appointment is due to a lack of political courage on the part of the incoming administration:

It would be a great risk of political capital to stand up to Stevens or Blagojevich or Burris. Standing up against any of them would be a messy legal battle and a risk of failure which would result in being branded with a scarlet “F” for the remainder of a political career. The sensible and pragmatic thing for President-Elect Barack Obama and the rest of our nation’s leaders to do is to work with the cards they have been dealt rather than stubbornly pointing out the deck has been tampered with.

There is little political risk in standing up to Blagojevich, or Burris, or Stevens – I can think of few political acts which require less courage. The reason the transition, along with the Senate, have agreed to seat Burris without legal challenge is that there is no basis in the law for refusing to seat him. The Supreme Court decided in an 8 -1 decision in Powell v. McCormack that “in judging the qualifications of its members, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution.” Matthew Yglesias pivots off this in a recent post to argue that refusing to seat Burris has no basis in the law and would be setting a very dangerous precedent:

But nobody disputes that Blagojevic is governor of Illinois. And nobody disputes that the Illinois Senate seat is vacant. And nobody disputes that the governor of Illinois is supposed to fill Illinois Senate vacancies. And nobody disputes that Burris was chosen by Blagojevic. And nobody disputes that Burris possesses the standing qualifications prescribed in the constitution. So it seems to me that unless the Senate has some reason to believe that Burris did something corrupt to obtain the seat, there’s neither grounds for expelling him nor for refusing to seat him.

Contrary to what Ritchie is suggesting, the Democrats are actually creating real change by allowing the law to dictate political outcomes, as oppossed to political considerations dictating legal outcomes. Although it is a sad day in the United States when standing up for the rule of law is considered an act of political courage (especially in this case, where there is a consensus on interpretation), the incoming administration is acting according to the letter and spirit of the law. Although we might not like the outcome, the process of the appointment is indisputable. It takes political courage to interpret the rules correctly even when they don’t support an advantageous political outcome. We can, however, change the rules when we don’t like them, and allowing governors to appoint senators seems like a rule worth changing.

He was the federal government

Tom Delay said, "I am the federal government!"

The greatest damage the current administration did over the past eight years was to pursue a political agenda without regard to the law: from the use of torture to domestic spying the basic argument was that if the president did it, it couldn’t be illegal. And it wasn’t just the administration; the Republican leadership in Congress broke the law to pressure their members into votes and to shut off the Democrats from the legislative process. Upholding the rule of law is the first, and most important, job of the executive branch and we should applaud the Democrats, and Obama, for fulfill their duty.

He dont make the rules, he just enforces em.

He don't make the rules, he just enforces 'em.

UPDATE: Everyone should check out Ritchie’s blog We Are Cyborgs on “your rights, the web and our world.” There is some crazy shit happening out there: Ritchie will tell you about it.

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