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For Burris, Supreme Court appeal may be too little, too late

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to throw Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) a lifeline in his struggle to get his name on the ballot so that he can stay in the U.S. Senate for the next few months, through the end of the current Congress. Justice Stephen Breyer, to whom the case was directed, suggested that the case simply comes too late.

For those not following the legal drama in Illinois, here's the background. After Barack Obama was elected president, creating a vacancy in the Senate, the Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, appointed Burris to fill the remainder of the Obama Senate term -- until January 2011 -- and Burris was seated in January 2009. But a group of Illinois residents sued, claiming the U.S. Constitution required the state to schedule an election at some point to fill out the term, rather than simply allowing the governor's appointment to carry Burris all the way through to its end.

A federal appeals court agreed, and ruled that Illinois law requires the state to let voters decide at the Nov. 2nd general election who will serve out the term. To accommodate the state's complaint that it didn't have enough time to meet such a requirement, further court wrangling produced another judicial order in early August: the candidates would be the same ones who are already running for the Senate in Illinois for a full term beginning in the next Congress. That left Sen. Burris out in the cold, because he chose much earlier not to run for another term.

In early September, Burris went to court hoping to get his name on the ballot for what's left in the Senate term. He argued that because the deadline for becoming a Senate candidate expired before the courts ordered a special election, potential candidates for the unexpired term had no chance to get themselves on the ballot. The state, on the other hand, urged the court to leave this mess alone. Burris may be a casualty on the legal battlefield, the state said, but that's nothing compared to the chaos that would result if the Supreme Court were to step in and order further changes to its election plans.

Burris directed his appeal to Breyer, who late Monday turned him down. Without elaboration, Breyer cited three previous Supreme Court cases in which justices declined to take up last-minute appeals. Two of them involved 11th-hour challenges to election ballots. Without actually saying so, Breyer strongly suggested it's simply too late in the process for further court interference.