Roland Burris will be seated this week as a U.S. senator, taking over the position vacated by President-elect Barack Obama and capping a bizarre, weeks-long saga surrounding the legality of his appointment.
Senate leaders first rejected Burris and turned him away from the Senate before finally accepting his appointment by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested in December for allegedly trying to sell the very same Senate seat.
The move reverses an unlikely standoff between Burris, a former Illinois attorney general who has not held elective office in more than a decade, and the powerful Democratic lawmakers who control Congress. The Democratic leaders had wanted to avoid accepting an appointment made by Blagojevich, because of the charges against him.
Blagojevich was impeached Friday by the Illinois House of Representatives, but as a sitting governor he still has the legal authority to make appointments.
A breakthrough was reached for Burris when Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who had pledged not to sign the document by which Blagojevich officially appointed Burris, signed a separate sheet, acknowledging Burris. While unconventional, Blagojevich's appointment and White's separate certification of that appointment satisfied the Senate parliamentarian when Burris' attorney and Blagojevich's chief of staff presented the credentials today.
"The secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate Rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a joint statement announcing they would accept Burris. "In addition, as we requested, Mr. Burris has provided sworn testimony before the Illinois House Committee on Impeachment regarding the circumstances of his appointment."
Burris was initially denied the right to be seated in the Senate last Tuesday because Democrats said the Illinois secretary of state had not signed his appointment certificate.
In response, White and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued in writing to the Illinois state Supreme Court that White's signature was not required by law but only recommended by a Senate rule.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday that White was not required to sign the certificate. The move put the onus back on the Senate to decide whether to seat Burris.
"As we had outlined to Mr. Burris, a path needed to be followed that respects the rules of the Senate," Reid and Durbin said in their statement. "We committed to Mr. Burris that once those requirements were satisfied, we would be able to proceed. We are pleased that everything is now in order, we congratulate Senator-designee Burris on his appointment and we look forward to working with him in the 111th Congress."
"I am very happy that the Supreme Court ruled supporting our argument that everything surrounding this appointment was legal and complete," Burris said in a Friday statement.
"I am confident I have cooperated with all the requests of the U.S. Senate, and I expect they will validate my credentials and seat me in a timely manner," he said.
Burris also reassured lawmakers on Thursday that he did not act unethically in being appointed to the seat, testifying before state lawmakers investigating the possible impeachment of the governor.