PI Original Adam Doster Thursday February 26th, 2009, 11:54am

Geoghegan Files Lawsuit To Force Senate Special Election

If the General Assembly or the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee isn’t prepared to unseat Sen. Roland Burris, labor lawyer and 5th Congressional District candidate Tom Geoghegan is ready to take on the fight.

If the General Assembly or the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee isn’t prepared to unseat Sen. Roland Burris, labor lawyer and 5th Congressional District candidate Tom Geoghegan is ready to take on the fight.

At a press conference at the Dirksen Federal Building this morning, Geoghegan -- along with co-counsels Scott Frankel, Rob Cohen, and former alderman Marty Oberman -- announced that he has filed a suit in federal court against the state of Illinois and Gov. Pat Quinn seeking a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

The plaintiffs claim that neither former Gov. Rod Blagojevich nor Quinn issued a “writ of elections to fill senate vacancies” as required by the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Currently, Illinois follows a legal proviso in the amendment that allows the governor to “make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislatures may direct.” Geogeghan and his colleagues are not suggesting that Burris’ appointment was illegal—rather, it represents a temporary placeholder until the state could marshal the resources to hold a statewide election. (Geogeghan first laid out this argument in a New York Times op-ed published a few days after Burris’ appointment in January.)

Speaking to a large assembling of reporters, Geoghegan outlined three purposes for the suit: to “end the embarrassing stalemate” that is the Blagojevich-Burris charade, to establish rules so the people can vote for their elected officials, and to assure that the government is conducted by the rule of law. “This is why I went to law school” he said. “And the Constitution exists to make sure the democratic rights of the people are secured.”

The timing of the suit is certainly beneficial to Geoghegan's congressional campaign; after all, he needs all the media attention he can get in the days leading up to the primary next Tuesday. But Geoghegan says any claims of opportunism are tenuous. “For 30 years, I’ve been bringing public interest cases like this to the courts,” he said. “Just because I’m running for Congress, I haven’t given up my day job.”

Geoghegan also stressed that urgency is required. In that vein, Attorney General Lisa Madigan released an opinion on the matter last night.  As she explained on WLS Radio this morning, to her own "surprise," she and  her staff deterimined that the U.S. constitution allows for holding a special election without Burris first resigning or being expelled from the Senate.  This has set off a fierce debate in legal circles, which the Tribune's Eric Zorn has been wading through.

And what about the cost of a special election, especially for a state facing a massive budget deficit? Because it’s a federal race, Geoghegan said it’s within reason for the Illinois congressional delegation to request funding from Washington. If elected, Geoghegan pledged to put forward such a request.

We will be following the lawsuit as it progresses, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here's Geoghegan's complaint (click the button in the upper right corner to expand):

Image by Flickr user Majikthise.

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