I just got off the phone with Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Tisei, the leader of the minority Republicans in the state Senate, and he confirmed to me that the GOP is not ruling out a court challenge against any possible new law to quickly fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat through an interim appointment.
Tisei said that when Democrats changed the law in 2004 to provide for special elections instead of gubernatorial appointment — when John Kerry was running for President and Republican Mitt Romney was Governor — the GOP offered an amendment to have interim appointments. The Democrats, he said, are all on record shooting it down back then. And Tisei says that Dems can’t change the rules to fit the new circumstances of a current vacancy.“Here’s the thing, if we were talking about prospectively doing this for an opening that may come up in the future, that would be one thing,” said Tisei. “But we’re doing it based on — there is currently an opening right now, the law that’s in place has been activated, and to change the rules while you have the process underway, probably does raise some questions.”
I asked if a legal challenge was possible. “Yes, because again, we’re changing the succession law in Massachusetts while the process that — there is a process underway,” said Tisei. “We’re gonna explore every option that we can to prevent this from coming up. And I’m gonna tell you, obviously a lot of people are upset about Sen Kennedy’s passing, and he went through a terrible struggle. That said, though, this is very controversial.”
Tisei explained that he himself is not a lawyer — his career has been in real estate — but the legal dimension has been discussed among Republicans.
I asked Tisei about the concern being advanced by Democrats, that the state should have full representation during a time of great debates in Washington. His answer was two-fold: First, that state Democrats rejected this same reasoning when the law was changed in 2004. And second, he said things aren’t so urgent as they might seem — that things can wait.
“The Democrats control the United States Senate, so they control the scheduling on every important issue that takes place,” said Tisei. “So if there is an important vote to be taken on health care or another important issue, and they need the vote from Massachusetts, they can just schedule it after the special election. There’s no emergency that needs to be taken care of. And if it’s health care, that’s an issue the candidates who are running for the seat can discuss, and the voters of Massachusetts can make their choice.”