By ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight
Buckling under constituent heat to deal with corruption exemplified by the multiple-count indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), Illinois legislators gave final approval on Oct. 15 to put a recall of governors law on the November 2 ballot.
The ACLU is rattling its sword, warning that the measure would lead to expensive litigation, which is the ACLU’s standard way of pressuring public officials without even filing a lawsuit. Illinois ACLU Legal Director Harvey Grossman suggested the legislature start over with a new draft, according to the Associated Press. The recall law is expected to pass, however.
The proposal would allow Illinois citizens to recall governors after a petition process involving all 25 of the state’s counties. Since the proposed law uniformly requires at least 100 registered voters in each county to initiate the recall, the ACLU contends that this unconstitutionally empowers voters in less populated counties, thus violating the principle of one man, one vote.
By this logic, the ACLU should declare the election of United States Senators unconstitutional, since less populous states get the same number (two) as the most populous states. Perhaps they will fire a warning shot across the Senate’s bow if they are disappointed with November’s election results. The Constitution’s clear language, such as the 17th Amendment, hasn’t stopped them before.
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who replaced the disgraced Blagojevich, supports the recall measure. Several Illinois newspapers have criticized the law as too narrow, with some arguing that recall should cover all elected officials, not just governors.
Noting that legislators in 2008 and 2009 defeated more comprehensive recall measures, the Chicago Tribune editorialized that: “lawmakers tried to look reformist by proposing a pathetic little amendment – you’ll vote on it next year – to allow only the recall of governors. They granted themselves and other politicians a pass.”
The proposed law would require that at least 20 state representatives and 10 state senators divided equally between both political parties sign a notice of intent to recall the governor before a petition could be circulated. Then, 60 percent of the electorate would have to approve the recall.
On January 9, 2009, the Illinois state House of Representatives voted to impeach Blagojevich by a 114-1 vote after he had been charged with federal crimes including offering to fill Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat for money. On Jan. 29, the Illinois Senate voted to convict him and remove him from office by a unanimous vote.
Facing 24 charges, Blagojevich was convicted in U.S. District Court on Aug. 19, 2010 of only one – lying to investigators. The federal jury deadlocked 11-1 on several other more serious charges. On Oct. 22, a federal judge delayed a retrial on the other charges until April 2011 – well after the Chicago mayoral election in February in which former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is running. Emanuel was subpoenaed as a defense witness at the first trial but never called.
Illinois would become the 19th state to have a recall for governors. Minnesota passed a governor recall law in 1996. Only two governors have been recalled since the laws started appearing at the turn of the 20th Century: Lynn Frazier in North Dakota (1921) and Gray Davis in California (2003).
Recall efforts for U.S. Senators are underway in New Jersey and North Dakota, where potential petition drives are in court. A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling is pending in a case involving a Tea Party petition against Sen. Robert Menendez (D) that was heard in May. The ACRU has filed a friend of the court brief in New Jersey as well as in the North Dakota case.
In North Dakota, Tea Party organizers went to court this week over a recall effort against Sen. Kent Conrad (D). Oral arguments were heard on Oct. 20 in the North Dakota Supreme Court in the case of RecallND v. Jaegar over North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaegar’s refusal to begin the recall process after The Committee to Recall Senator Conrad filed papers. The Committee is seeking a court order to allow the recall process to proceed.