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Senate rule fuzzy on seating Burris

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[January 08, 2009]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, there's a simple reason Roland Burris can't take President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat: Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White hasn't signed Burris' certificate of appointment.

InsuranceBut it's not really that simple.

Both White and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan say no law requires a secretary of state's signature on appointments. And they point to a portion of the Senate rules that merely recommends the way to write a certificate of appointment, saying it should be signed by the secretary of state.

In remarks to reporters on Wednesday, both Reid and his second in command, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, made it sound like their hands were tied by unambiguous and long-standing Senate rules.

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.

Durbin made it sound even more ironclad: "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."

One fuzzy portion of the rule might back up the Illinois officials. It says that the Senate must "keep a record" in a "wellbound book" that includes the names of the governor and the secretary of state "signing and countersigning the same." But it doesn't explicitly say the signature is required to claim the seat; it just addresses the requirement for the Senate to keep a record.

The situation represents a Catch-22 for Senate leaders, who plainly want the Illinois Supreme Court to force White to sign Burris' certificate as a way to defuse the confrontation and allow Burris to be seated. If the Supreme Court agrees with the Illinois officials, the seating could be delayed.

[Associated Press; By ANDREW TAYLOR]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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