Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ROLAND, ROLAND, ROLAND: Trying to end his career on a “high” note

Roland Burris is the man who likes to say he began his public life by desegregating the public swimming pool in his then-hometown of Centralia (he and his teenage friends showed up one day and just jumped into the pool that previously had been for white people only).

Now that the 72-year-old Burris is approaching the end of his public life, he seems determined to make an even bigger splash on behalf of political empowerment for African-American people.

FOR BURRIS IS telling that insiderish newspaper on Capitol Hill (called The Hill) that he wants President Barack Obama to pick a black person, preferably a woman, to the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States that will be created with the upcoming retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens.

In fact, Burris says he is spending his time these days “working on” a list of experienced legal people who happen to be African-American and female, and that he plans to use his political influence with the president to get him to take the idea seriously.

Quit laughing! You know you are.

This sounds to many of you like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, possibly even worse than that one they actually aired last year where Kenan Thompson’s ignorance of the difference between running for multiple offices and multiple terms for the same office came up with one incredibly lame punchline coming from the mouth of “Burris.”

WILL WE SOON get Thompson once again giving us a Roland Burris, pompously sitting in his office putting together a list that no one other than himself will pay any attention to?

Actually, I should be a little honest. It isn’t even Burris putting a list together. It is his congressional staff. He has researchers to do the heavy lifting of digging up details to back up his arguments onvirtually anything – which, to be honest, all political people do.

Which is why I think those people who want to mock Rod Blagojevich for not knowing how to do basic research or use a computer are missing the point. He got elected to his political posts because of his “vision,” which basically means he wasn’t George Ryan – while Jim Ryan and Judy Baar Topinka were perceived as being too close to George.

And Milorod, in his final political act, gave us Burris, who is now trying to influence the choice of a new Supreme Court justice. Does this mean that a black woman justice on the Supreme Court could be perceived indirectly as Blagojevich’s lasting mark on our nation?

ALRIGHT, MY SARCASM there hung even more heavily than anytime Sarah Palin opens her mouth in public these days. But while I will concede there are less productive things Roland Burris could be doing with his time these days, the idea that our one-time attorney general with the incredibly ornate mausoleum already erected in his honor is trying to single-handedly pick a Supreme Court justice is worth more than a chuckle.

Then again, maybe it is something in the Washington air.

Because if one pays attention to the news reports emanating from the District of Columbia, there is talk coming from various political people about who Obama should choose for the life-long appointment to the nation’s high court.

There are those who are convinced it must be a woman. There are others who think it must be a protestant (because there is potential for a high court with nothing but Catholic and Jewish people).

SOME THINK IT should be a fairly conservative white man (because we don’t have enough of those in positions of authority), while others think Obama should make one blatantly partisan nomination during his presidency – instead of catering to people who would never vote for him in an election anyway.

I even read one report Tuesday morning from people who think the time has come for a Supreme Court justice who is gay and feels no need to cover that fact up.

So maybe in that environment, the image of Roland Burris sitting in his office, reading through research put together by his staff to make a statement about how the high court needs a black woman to go along with the Latina and the Jewish woman already on the court isn’t totally absurd.

Now I’m not going to claim to be an expert and say I know who Obama will pick. It could be someone with ties to him through Chicago, but I also wonder if he’d rather save that potential pick for a time when the confirmation process isn’t going to be such a blatantly ugly battle.

THEN AGAIN, MAYBE someone exposed to hard-core Chicago politics is exactly the kind of person who could handle the Senate Republican caucus’ hardest shots?

So what of the idea of an African-American woman, to boost the number of black people on the high court to two? What would Clarence Thomas think of such a colleague? To me, the idea makes as much sense as any of the other trial balloons being tossed about.

I couldn’t help but notice the “reader comments” published by The Hill along with their story about Buris’ desires. One reader who does not like Burris’ idea wrote, “you have your African-American justice: learn to appreciate him.”

Perhaps we should be fortunate he didn’t use another word instead of “African-American.” But to me, the idea that such people could be so offended by the idea may be reason enough to not dismiss Burris so lightly.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Roland Burris takes some credit for recognizing the skills and appeal of Sonia Sotomayor ( in an effort to bolster the chances that anybody will listen to his Supreme Court opinions this time.

Does Burris want to end his political career ( with another Saturday Night Live sketch “appearance?”

A former state Supreme Court justice from Georgia who also happens to be a black woman is on some versions ( of Barack Obama’s “list” of potential nominees. Would Burris accept her? Or is Leah Ward Sears too friendly with Clarence Thomas for Roland to be comfortable?

No comments: