In a stunning setback, an Illinois appellate court tossed Rahm Emanuel off the ballot for next month’s Chicago mayoral race, ruling 2-1 that Emanuel was ineligible for the job.
The appeals court’s decision, which overturns rulings by the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners and a Cook County court, argues that Emanuel failed to meet residency standards for the job, which requires that candidates reside in the Windy City for a year prior to Election Day. Emanuel lived in Washington from January 2009 through September 2010, when he stepped down from his post as President Obama’s chief of staff to run for the seat being vacated by Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The ruling (you can read the decision here) hinged on the judges’ interpretation of statutory language. Emanuel rented out his Chicago home after his family followed him to Washington in June 2009, though he left behind some material belongings (like their televisions, a bed, a piano) and family heirlooms. He also maintained an Illinois drivers’ license and his Illinois voter registration. (He paid property taxes in both Chicago and Washington.) Emanuel’s attorneys had successfully argued that these facts, and that he moved to Washington at the behest of the President, meant that he met the residency requirements.
Two of the three appellate judges, responding to the appeal filed by two Chicago-area plaintiffs, parsed the language of the statute very closely; there are citations not just to case law but to dictionaries, as they try to grapple with the meaning of words like “reside” and “residence.” They found that Emanuel’s intention to maintain a Chicago residence–and his ability to vote in Chicago–did not meet the residency requirement, which they define as actually living in the city. A dissenting judge argued that the majority’s decision ignored case law and was issued according to the judge’s “whims.”
At a news conference after the ruling, Emanuel indicated he would appeal to the state Supreme Court. As the Chicago Sun-Times’ Abdon Pallasch notes, if Emanuel’s camp gets a stay of the decision his name could still appear on the ballot for the Feb. 22 election. What’s clear is that the surprising split decision is a sharp blow to the race’s prohibitive favorite. Emanuel had raised more than $10 million toward his bid, more than his competitors’ totals combined, and was outpacing his nearest rival by more than 20 points at the polls.