When the Constitution’s framers made each house of Congress “the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members,” they hardly could have anticipated the recent shenanigans in the Senate.

Democratic leaders have looked foolish in blocking the seating of Roland Burris, the duly appointed successor to Barack Obama from Illinois, because they disapproved of the governor who named him. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Burris would be the only black in the Senate.

Now they seem to be backing down, in stages. The faster they do so, the better. And Republicans ought to allow the provisional seating of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, the apparent winner by 225 votes of November’s election, while they troll for ballots to overturn or muddy the result in a challenge that seems as much political as legal.

In each case, the man being denied a seat lacked a certificate from his state’s secretary of state. But the cases are quite different.

In blocking Burris, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cited the fact that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had failed to certify him. But White withheld his approval for the same extra-legal reason that the Senate Democrats opposed Burris, disapproval of scandal-tainted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Illinois Supreme Court may soon order him to do so.

That should end the matter, since there has never been any real legal reason to block Burris, despite the fact that Blagojevich could well face impeachment and/or indictment. Burris, a former state attorney general, clearly meets the constitutional qualifications, and there has been no evidence of any impropriety directly affecting his appointment or providing a legal reason to delay his certification.

In Minnesota, state law has delayed issuance of a certificate of election pending settlement of all legal issues. By filing a lawsuit challenging Franken’s apparent victory, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman has ensured that won’t happen for weeks, even months.

He hopes to persuade the courts to change the state-conducted recount that took place under mutually accepted procedures. Republicans want to check additional absentee ballots, mainly in GOP-voting areas, and review two other decisions that went against them.

Most Minnesota observers express doubt Coleman will prevail. So the main impact may be to deprive Minnesota of its second senator for some weeks or months – and to deprive Democrats of their 59th senator.

That could be rectified by seating Franken on a provisional basis, pending a final decision on whether he’ll keep the seat.

In the past, such fights have generally ended with the voters’ judgment prevailing. But one result of prolonged fights has been increased political acrimony.

The Supreme Court overturned the 1967 effort by Republicans and Southern Democrats to deny a seat in the House to Rep. Adam Clayton Powell because he misused committee funds. The court held that he met the constitutional requirements of age, citizenship and residence. His constituents promptly re-elected him.

And a disputed 1984 Indiana congressional election in which the Democratic majority seated the Democratic contender angered some Republicans so much they still cite it nearly a quarter-century later. But voters kept the Democrat in office for the next decade.

The Illinois situation was unique. But the Minnesota case has parallels with a disputed 1974 New Hampshire election in which the Senate ultimately was unable to determine a winner and agreed to a re-run 10 months later. Both races were especially nasty.

That contest between Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin was far closer; indeed, separate New Hampshire bodies certified each candidate at different stages as the winner, one by 2 votes and the other by 10.

For months, a Senate panel examined disputed ballots, while majority Democrats resisted GOP efforts to force a new election, fearing Durkin would lose in then Republican New Hampshire. Ultimately, they gave in and, to the surprise of both parties, the Democrat won easily. But he proved so partisan a figure he lost the seat six years later.

In the end, Al Franken almost surely will wind up as Minnesota’s junior senator, just as Roland Burris will soon get his rightful seat from Illinois.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News.

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