Image: Burris
Seth Perlman  /  AP
U.S. Senate appointee Roland Burris, left, speaks during the Illinois House Impeachment Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/9/2009 2:59:15 PM ET 2009-01-09T19:59:15

The Illinois Supreme Court said Friday that Secretary of State Jesse White's signature isn't required to validate Roland Burris' appointment to the U.S. Senate, lobbing the question of seating him back to Democratic leaders in Washington.

"No further action is required by the Secretary of State or any other official to make the Governor's appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate valid under Illinois law," Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote for the court in its unanimous decision.

Burris was turned away from the Senate this week in part because his appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich lacks White's signature.

White has declined to sign the appointment in the wake of the federal corruption charges against Blagojevich that allege the governor schemed to sell or trade the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for personal gain. Blagojevich was impeached Friday.

White has said he would not sign the appointment unless the state Supreme Court forced him to do so. A message seeking comment was left with White's office Friday.

White and the Illinois attorney general's office, which represents him as an officer of the state, had argued that while a U.S. Senate rule "recommends" a secretary of state's signature on appointments, no law requires it.

Friday's ruling agrees that the "Secretary of State has no duty under Illinois law to sign and affix the state seal to the certificate of appointment issued by the Governor."

But a senior Senate Democratic aide tells NBC News that "Burris is where he was a week ago" and cannot be seated in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this week Democratic leaders made it clear that under Senate rules — not Illinois state rules — Burris' election certificate would have to be signed by both the governor and the Illinois secretary of state.

In a statement, Burris responded to the ruling, saying, "I am very happy that the Supreme Court ruled supporting our argument that everything surrounding this appointment was legal and complete. This appointment meets the qualifications required by the U.S. Senate of all gubernatorial appointees to fill vacated seats."

Burris, the former Illinois attorney general, denied making any sort of deal with Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate appointment. He refused to take a position on whether Blagojevich should resign or whether he should be impeached.

On Friday, the Illinois House voted 114-1 to impeach the governor.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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