Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lawsuit to force a House speaker from his own party to hold legislative special sessions may be unprecedented, controversial and somewhat embarrassing for the state's Democrats. But it's not legally frivolous, experts say.
The Illinois Constitution grants the governor the power to call special sessions, and state law appears to allow him to set the time and date.
Blagojevich filed the lawsuit Aug. 24, asking a Sangamon County judge to affirm his right to set the time and date of special sessions and to block Madigan from excusing members from the sessions and preventing a quorum.
The suit followed months of finger-pointing between Blagojevich and lawmakers, who were angry about being called to Springfield by the governor almost every weekend in July and August.
Some lawmakers accused Blagojevich of calling the sessions to punish them for a summerlong budget impasse.
Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, said the speaker has no obligation to make members go to what he calls a "farce."
Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff argued the special sessions themselves -- and the lawsuit to affirm the governor's power -- are necessary.
Blagojevich "can call special sessions when there are issues that the legislature needs to address," Ottenhoff said. "The lack of a state budget is definitely one of those issues. ... We're confident that for the speaker to disregard a special session proclamation is a constitutional violation."
There is a question whether the courts will choose to decide the case at all, or refuse on the ground that the lawsuit presents a political question.
For example, the Illinois Constitution states that the state will provide an "efficient" system of "high quality" public education. But when an advocacy group filed a lawsuit alleging that the state's school-financing scheme fell short of that standard, the state Supreme Court refused to decide the issue.
The question is "outside the sphere of the judicial function" and "solely for the legislative branch to answer," the court said in 1996.
Both Blagojevich and Madigan avoided one potentially sticky issue in the lawsuit: What role would Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan play?
Both sides asked Lisa Madigan, daughter of the House speaker, to allow them to use their own in-house attorneys to pursue the litigation, said Ann Spillane, Lisa Madigan's chief of staff.
The attorney general's office granted that request, and therefore never faced the issue of whether the attorney general faced a conflict of interest, Spillane said.
All kinds of crazy State History being made