SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - In an unprecedented move, the Illinois attorney general asked the state's highest court yesterday to strip scandal-plagued Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of his powers.
Lisa Madigan took the action as pressure on the governor intensified to step down and lawmakers considered impeachment. And the fallout over the scandal continued yesterday as the governor's chief of staff resigned; John Harris was arrested along with Blagojevich on Tuesday.
Madigan said she took the action with the Supreme Court because she thought this was a faster way to strip Blagojevich of his power than through impeachment, which could take several weeks.
"I recognize that this is an extraordinary request, but these are extraordinary circumstances," Madigan said at a news conference in Chicago.
Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor would not say when the court might act on Madigan's motion, saying only that it "will be properly considered." The justices also have the discretion to deny Madigan's request.
The move came as Blagojevich prayed with several ministers at his home before heading to his office, telling them he is innocent and will be vindicated "when you hear each chapter completely written," according to one of the pastors.
Madigan asked the court for a temporary restraining order or an injunction that prevents Blagojevich from serving as governor. The filing says he is "unable to serve as governor due to disability and should not rightfully continue to hold that office.
"The pervasive nature and severity of these pending charges disable Mr. Blagojevich from making effective decisions on critical, time-sensitive issues."
The filing asks that the lieutenant governor assume Blagojevich's powers.
It is the first time in Illinois history that such an action has been taken. Madigan is applying a rule intended to cover cases in which a governor is incapacitated for health reasons. Her motion suggests that Blagojevich's inability to serve because of the scandal is akin to a debilitating health issue.
The motion essentially declares that Blagojevich's legal problems amount to a disability that would not be resolved until he is either cleared of the charges or leaves office.
"Mr. Blagojevich is unable to distinguish between his financial interests and his official duties and between illegal acts and legal conduct, rendering him incapable of legitimately exercising his ability as governor," Madigan wrote in the motion.
Just hours after Madigan's news conference, Blagojevich ignored the pressure to step down and signed a bill that would give insurance coverage to parents of children with autism.
Madigan's motion came three days after Blagojevich was accused of putting President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat up for sale and trying to shake down the owners of the Chicago Tribune.
The decision to go to the state's highest court was not welcomed by everyone. Democratic State Rep. Jack Franks said it would set "a dangerous precedent" for the court to remove a governor as Madigan proposes. Franks, a fierce Blagojevich critic, said that kind of decision should be left to the General Assembly.
"That's our job, and we should be doing it," he said.