Turmoil in Chicago: Rahm Emanuel back on ballot as top court takes case

Illinois Supreme Court stays the ruling dropping Rahm Emanuel from the Chicago ballot and agrees to hear his appeal on residency. With the mayoral election in turmoil, anger is voiced at the appellate court ruling.

Gregg D/Daniel-Ackerman Photography/AP
The official seating of the seven justices of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Illinois' highest court agreed Tuesday, to take Rahm Emanuel's appeal of a decision that threw him off the ballot for Chicago mayor and ordered election officials not to print any mayoral ballots without Emanuel's name.

Tuesday turned out to be a better day for Rahm Emanuel than Monday, when an Illinois Court of Appeals ruled that he was ineligible to run for mayor of Chicago and his name must be struck from the ballot.

First, the Illinois Supreme Court granted his request for a stay to the appellate court ruling on the ballot – meaning that ballots, whose printing began Tuesday, will carry his name.

Then the court also agreed to hear his appeal of the ruling, though it will not accept any additional briefs or oral arguments.

Now, Mr. Emanuel – who until Monday was the heavy favorite to replace Richard Daley as Chicago's next mayor – just needs the state's top court to agree with two lower courts that he is, in fact, eligible to run for the job, despite living in Washington for much of the last year as President Obama's chief of staff.

"I believe [voters] deserve the right to make that choice, to say yes or no, and nobody else," Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday morning, where he declared himself "confident" in the argument he is making to the state's supreme court. Otherwise, he largely continued to campaign as usual.

But the city has been thrown into turmoil with the events of the past two days, putting the field of candidates up in the air just a week before early voting begins, and causing some to question the political process for selecting Illinois judges. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners had already ordered ballots to be printed without Emanuel's name when news of the stay came down. “We called the printer ... and essentially told them, ‘Stop the presses,’ ” Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, told the Chicago Tribune.

Emanuel was frontrunner

Emanuel was the frontrunner in the latest Tribune poll, with 44 percent backing – more than double that of Carol Moseley Braun, his closest competitor. And the city was largely stunned by the news that he might be removed from the running on a technicality.

Both major Chicago newspapers ran scathing editorials lambasting the decision, with the Tribune calling the court's reasoning "audaciously twisted" and the Sun-Times declaring that "if this ruling stands, two appellate court justices, employing a rather narrow reading of state law, will have decided that you, the voters, cannot choose Emanuel to be your next mayor – tough luck, folks."

And that ruling – which decided to view the requirement that a mayoral candidate reside in Chicago for the year prior to the election through their narrower lens rather than apply the broader legal definition of residency commonly used – has fueled at least a few conspiracy theories.

The two judges responsible for the majority opinion both owe their jobs to the backing of a powerful Chicago alderman, Edward Burke, who has openly endorsed Gery Chico, another mayoral candidate, a Tribune article notes. Mr. Burke's wife, Anne Burke, also happens to be a justice on the state Supreme Court that will now consider the appeal.

Judge's dissent was scathing

Perhaps no one has been more scathing in their criticism than Bertina Lampkin, the appellate judge who wrote the dissent in Monday's ruling. "The majority’s application of a new standard in the instant case shows a careless disregard for the law shortly before an election for the office of mayor in a major city," Judge Lampkin wrote. "An opinion of such wide-ranging import and not based on established law but, rather, on the whims of two judges, should not be allowed to stand."

In his appeal, Emanuel and his lawyers cite this dissent, along with other reasons they believe the ruling should be overturned. It is "squarely inconsistent" with other high court decision regarding residency, they note.

Still, there is no guarantee that the state Supreme Court will overturn the current ruling. While no one disputes the facts – that Emanuel rented out his Chicago home and "resided" primarily in Washington for the 18 months when he worked for Obama – the court can now debate the intent, both of Emanuel and of the statute requiring residency as a prerequisite to running for mayor.

Not surprisingly, Emanuel's opponents greeted the news of the ruling more favorably. "There is no way I would second-guess the court of appeals of this state," Ms. Braun declared at a news conference. And Miguel del Valle, another candidate, sees the decision as a plus for Chicago voters. "Now the voters are going to have an opportunity to select the mayor of the City of Chicago instead of millionaires and lobbyists – and I think that’s good for the neighborhoods of the city of Chicago,” he said. Mr. Chico, for his part, appeared to be trying to stay out of the fray, saying his campaign would continue with its same strategy.

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