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Can The Senate Really Refuse To Seat Blago's Appointment?

CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield takes a look at historic precedent that suggests Senate could have a difficult time if they chose to fight embattled Gov. Blagojevich's reported appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate.

Can the U.S. Senate refuse to seat a Senator appointed by Governor Blagojevich? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to suggest that when he cited Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, saying that each house of the Congress shall judge the qualifications of its members.

But is this power absolute? Not according to the Supreme Court. In 1969, the Court ruled that the House of Representatives did NOT have the power to refuse to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the New York Congressman who was embroiled in a legal case that resulted in a contempt citation being issued against him.

The House's power to judge "qualifications", the Court said, meant Constitutional qualifications: age, citizenship, that sort of thing.

It's also clear, based on a Supreme Court case involving Julian Bond, that a state legislature could not refuse to seat an elected state Senator because the majority of his colleagues found bonds views on the Vietnam War abhorrent.

In the past, the Senate has ruled on appointments where the power of an outgoing governor to make an appointment was unclear. But as of now, there seems little question that Blagojevich is still the governor; the state legislature has not changed the appointment power; and as of now, Blagojevich has not been convicted, or even indicted.

By contrast, the Senate may well have more Constitutional power to expel a Senator than to refuse to seat one. But that raises the dicey political question: would the Senate really want to expel a qualified, experienced political veteran who has never been tainted with any scandal? And who, by the way, would be the only African-American in that body?

Who says there's no juicy political news between Christmas and New Year's Day.

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