Extracting Lessons from Illinois’ 2010 Special Election Fiasco: A Closer Look at the Seventh Circuit’s Decision in Judge v. Quinn and the Special Election Requirement of the Seventeenth Amendment
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This Note discusses the recent Seventh Circuit decision in Judge v. Quinn, in which the Seventh Circuit unanimously set aside Illinois’ Election Code under the Seventeenth Amendment because of the manner in which they filled vacant seats for U.S. Senator. This issue arose when then-Senator Barack Obama resigned from the Senate in November, 2008, to become President. When he resigned, Roland Burris was appointed to fill the seat. Illinois was not planning to hold a special election to fill Obama's seat because under Illinois Election Code, a special election to fill a vacant senate seat could only occur with the next general election. In this case, that would be in November, 2010—Obama’s sixth year of the senate term. Even if Illinois had conducted a special election in November, 2010, the winner would not be determined until late November and would not actually be sworn into office until early December. Thus, any elected replacement for Obama would only serve about a month in office (i.e. until January 3rd, which a new Congressional Session began). Illinois was therefore planning to allow the temporary appointee, Roland Burris, to finish Obama’s senate term. However, the Seventh Circuit unanimously set aside Illinois' Election Code and held that the Seventeenth Amendment required a special election, even where a replacement would only serve one month in office. Therefore, in the final three months before the November 2010 general elections, Illinois scrambled to include a special election to fill the remainder of Obama’s senate term. Judge v. Quinn is of critical importance because approximately forty states have election codes similar in effect to the statute that was unanimously set aside by the Seventh Circuit. This scenario is also not uncommon; for example, in the time period between 2002 and 2008, this situation occurred in at least four other states—Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, and Alaska. Since this issue had never been addressed before, Judge v. Quinn is positioned to be the vanguard of special election reform. Voters in other states will likely challenge their state’s election code under the holding of Judge v. Quinn, especially in light of the solidarity of the all of the Judges on the Seventh Circuit and the strong language they employed in their opinion. This Note assesses the soundness of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion and provides the necessary considerations states should incorporate in their analysis to update their own senate special election statutes.