(CN) – The 7th Circuit on Monday upheld a ruling that prevents U.S. Sen. Roland Burris from appearing on the ballot in a special election in order to finish the term in President Obama’s former Senate seat.
The ruling is the latest development in a year-long legal battle over the seat, stemming from a lawsuit filed by Illinois voters Gerald Judge and David Kindler.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month rejected Burris’ bid to stop the special election from taking place without his name on the ballot.
In a controversial move, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had appointed Burris to fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat until the state Legislature ordered a special election. That order never came, prompting the lawsuit in May 2009.
A federal judge ruled that the appointment was temporary, and that Sen. Burris would serve as Obama’s replacement until the winner of the general election takes office on Jan. 3.
This June, the 7th Circuit refused to compel Gov. Pat Quinn to hold a special election. Although the court acknowledged that the plaintiffs had “a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim,” it ruled that there was still ample time for an election to be organized without a court order.
Quinn petitioned for a rehearing, claiming the state would not be prepared for a Nov. 2 special election.
Although the 7th Circuit refused to rehear the case, it made clear that constitutional law should override state election policies.
The federal district court then ordered a Nov. 2 special election, and the parties agreed to limit the ballot to candidates who had been selected in primaries and were set to appear on the general election ballot for the new, six-year Senate term.
Under the plan, Sen. Burris would not appear on the ballot.
The judge declined Burris’ request for inclusion because his “appointment to the Senate did not give him a special claim to a spot on the ballot over any other citizen.”
Burris appealed, claiming the new election procedure violates the Seventeenth Amendment and encroaches on the state Legislature’s exclusive territory.
Circuit Judge Diana Wood said Burris’ appeal was essentially a political question out of the court’s jurisdiction, and found no “clear error” with the lower court’s election process.
“The district court’s effort did nothing more or less than vindicate constitutional rights in light of the real-world consequences of the necessary relief,” Wood wrote.
She said the process “was designed to be, and probably is, the most democratic and constitutionally sound approach the district court could have devised.”
Burris pointed out that nearly 15 percent of the almost 200 vacancies in the last century have been filled without a vote of the people. Rather than interpreting the statistic favorably, Wood commented that it “demonstrates that too often the requirements of the Seventeenth Amendment have been ignored.”
Burris will be immediately replaced by the winner of the special election, who will serve until the winner of the general election takes office on Jan. 3.