As the Illinois General Assembly considers bills to address the process for filling a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has received inquiries specifically asking whether the legislature can constitutionally pass a law that changes the date of the next election for the U.S. Senate.
She answered that Wednesday evening.
"It is my opinion that the legislature may pass a law allowing the people of Illinois to elect a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama," Madigan said in a written statement. "Such a law would be consistent with the U.S. Constitution. The 17th Amendment expresses a clear preference for having the people of a state elect their U.S. senators. In keeping with the purpose of this amendment, the legislature may constitutionally change the current law to set an earlier date for the election to this U.S. senate seat. I am providing this opinion to offer guidance to the legislature as they consider this issue."
The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution."
The opinion comes with Sen. Roland Burris under fire since new revelations about how he was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Burris was appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and driven from office after he was accused of trying to sell the Senate seat. Burris has changed his story multiple times.