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Emanuel Ruled Ineligible To Be Mayor

Unusual decision comes a month before election

Marc Tracy
January 24, 2011

First the Bears, and now this! In a surprise and somewhat bizarre decision, a panel of an Illinois state appellate court ruled, 2-1, that former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel is ineligible to compete in Chicago’s mayoral election on February 22. In most polls, Emanuel is leading by a significant margin over five other candidates.

The two-judge majority, disagreeing with the Chicago Board of Elections, a trial judge, and the third judge on the panel, argued that a municipal code requiring candidates to have a year of residency is to be interpreted more or less literally, and therefore that Emanuel’s return last autumn failed to qualify him. The opposing argument, according to election law expert Rick Hasen, is that residency is a question of intention, and since Emanuel always intended to return to Chicago—and departed in order to run the office of the leader of the free world—he is eligible to run.

Hasen, who spoke briefly on the phone with me, predicted that the Illinois Supreme Court would overturn today’s decision—if it gets to decide it in time. “The dissent, which is very strongly worded, accuses the majority of ignoring precedent and coming up with a new standard just to apply in this case,” Hasen said. “It’s already clear to me from what I’ve read that if this is a close case, most courts are likely to read the statute to give Chicago voters a chance to vote the candidate they want in a competitive election.”

Which, Hasen argued, is as it should be: “Given that there’s ample precedent to reach that conclusion, given that the election board and numerous other bodies reached the conclusion that Emanuel is eligible, then if there’s a way to do that, voters should be given that choice.”

In Tablet Magazine, Rachel Shteir argues that even if Emanuel wins his appeal in timely fashion, “it may not matter”: “If the Illinois Supreme Court rules in his favor, he’s a master of the dark arts who used his money and political pull to get back in the race. In the mean time, he’s been legally certified as a carpetbagger, which gives political cover to all those who—for whatever reasons—have labeled him an outsider.” Shteir has already predicted that Emanuel is likely not to win due to subtle, vestigial anti-Semitic bias in the Windy City.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.