Rahm Emanuel back on ballot to stay, court rules, but there’s still a footnote

By 7-0, the Illinois Supreme Court overturns an appellate court ruling that left Rahm Emanuel off Chicago’s mayoral ballot. But two justices say the issue of residency is not so clear-cut, and defend lower court.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer, Christian Science Monitor

posted January 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm EST

Chicago —  Ending a flurry of legal maneuvers that injected unwelcome last-minute confusion into Chicago’s mayoral race, the Illinois Supreme Court gave former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel the green light to continue his campaign for mayor of the city.

In a unanimous 7-0 ruling issued late Thursday afternoon, the court reversed a 2-1 decision by the Illinois Appeals Court Monday that threw Mr. Emanuel’s name off the ballot.

At issue was whether or not Emanuel qualified as a Chicago resident under a state law that required anyone vying for public office in Illinois to reside in the municipality in which they were seeking office for at least one year. Emanuel, who holds a commanding lead in the polls, returned to Chicago in October after serving as President Obama’s chief of staff for two years in Washington.

Since the Monday ruling, about 300,000 ballots were printed without Emanuel’s name. However the state Supreme Court had ordered that the printing stop until it could decide on the matter.

The high court ruling put to rest concerns about Justice Anne Burke and whether or not she should recuse herself from the process due to a potential conflict of interest. Justice Burke’s husband is Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, a staunch critic of Emanuel’s and a supporter of candidate Gery Chico, a former chief of staff to current Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In the ruling, Justices Burke and Charles Freeman added a footnote opinion that said that while they voted with their fellow justices to overrule the lower court decision, they disagreed with the reasoning, writing that “this case is in no way as clear-cut as the majority makes it out to be.” They wrote that the issue of residency remains vague under state law and that “the only thing that is well established in this case is the confusion that has existed on this subject.”

They defended the lower court’s decision, saying the appellate court was forced “to reconcile [the Illinois Supreme Court’s] conflicting pronouncements on the question of residency.”

‘Court did the best it could’

“That court did the best it could without the benefit of a supreme court opinion which clarified the standards,” they wrote. “By refusing to acknowledge the role our own case law has played in creating the dispute before us, the majority unwittingly adds credence to the inflammatory statements” made by Illinois Appellate Court Judge Bertina Lampkin in her dissenting opinion.

In that opinion, Judge Lampkin described the majority as deciding on its result “out of thin air” and with “careless disregard for the law” and based on the “whims of two judges.”

“In other words, the dissenting justice accused the majority of basing its decision on something other than the law,” Burke and Freeman wrote.

According to a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released last week, Emanuel is enjoying a 44 percent lead over his opponents. Former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was in second place with 21 percent.

The four leading candidates are participating in a television debate Thursday night. Emanuel celebrated the decision by greeting rush hour commuters on an EL station stop in the downtown Loop.

Circus’ instead of a debate

In a statement released soon after the decision, Chico said “Emanuel’s residency drama has made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago” and that voters will “choose their next mayor based on the candidates’ track records and their vision.”

Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who is also a candidate, said in a statement that he is “glad this question has finally been resolved” and called the issue “a real distraction.” He invited Emanuel to participate in the weekly community forums that are held throughout the city, saying he has been absent at a total of 16 to date.

Early voting starts Monday and the election is three weeks later, on Feb. 22.

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