Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

What if Three of the Nation's Most Powerful Gov't Officials Were From Illinois?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Illinois may be poised to take over Washington.

    We’ve already got the presidency. And Sen. Dick Durbin is in line to become majority leader if Harry Reid loses his election in Nevada. Most polls say that’s going to happen.

    Now, Slate magazine is promoting Attorney General Lisa Madigan as a possible successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens -- himself an Illinoisan.

    Obama and Madigan go way back. As state senators, they were members of what was known as Liberal Row -- a group of progressive Chicago-area Democrats who sat together at the back of the chamber, and voted together on important issues. After losing a congressional race to Bobby Rush in 2000, Obama considered a run for attorney general, but passed out of deference to Madigan (and fear of her father’s clout.)

    If Obama is looking for a precedent for appointing a home-state crony to the Supreme Court, he need only re-read one of his favorite books, Team of Rivals.

    In 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed his campaign manager, David Davis of Bloomington, to replace a Southern justice who quit at the outbreak of the Civil War. As young circuit-riding lawyers, Lincoln and Davis rode together between the courthouses of Central Illinois. This was often an ordeal for Lincoln. The corpulent, sweaty Davis was an odoriferous companion on hot carriage rides, and he always required his own bed at the inns, which meant Lincoln had to share a mattress with another attorney.

    If Durbin heads the Senate, and Obama appoints Madigan to the Supreme Court, then Illinois will enjoy more power in Washington that at any time since the Civil War.

    How well will that go over in Washington? When President George W. Bush tried to put a Texas pal on the Supreme Court -- White House counsel Harriet Miers -- even his fellow Republicans told him “no way.” Madigan, who has argued before the Supreme Court, is more qualified than Miers.

    But you can bet that if Obama nominates Madigan, we’ll be hearing that he’s trying to pack the Supreme Court "Chicago Mafia"-style.