With startling arrogance and audaciously twisted reasoning, two appellate judges ignored more than 100 years of legal precedent, invented a new definition of “residency” and ordered Rahm Emanuel off the Feb. 22 mayoral ballot.
With the election just four weeks away, the appellate panel voted 2-1 to reverse the decisions of the Chicago Board of Elections and a Circuit Court judge. It’s an adventurous, flawed ruling that has immediate and profound consequences. The case is headed to the Illinois Supreme Court, but the ballots are headed to the printer ― without Emanuel’s name. Early voting begins Monday.
In a blistering dissent, Appellate Justice Bertina E. Lampkin accused her colleagues, Thomas E. Hoffman and Shelvin Louise Marie Hall, of “careless disregard for the law,” and harshly criticized them for refusing to ask the Supreme Court for an expedited review.
Lampkin accused the majority of ignoring case law that clearly supported Emanuel’s argument ― including a significant case in which Hoffman prevailed.
“The majority’s new standard is ill-reasoned and unfair to the candidate, voters and those of us who are charged with applying the law,” Lampkin wrote. The decision “disenfranchises not just this particular candidate but every voter in Chicago who would consider voting for him.”
That would be 44 percent of them, based on the latest Chicago Tribune poll. Voters, whether they support Emanuel or another candidate, clearly aren’t concerned about his residency.
Three days of testimony before the elections board determined that Emanuel was a longtime resident of Chicago and that he didn’t abandon that status while serving as chief of staff to President Barack Obama. That should have been the end of it.
Instead, the two appellate justices twisted themselves into a pretzel to come up with an argument to disqualify him. Insisting that they had “no Supreme Court directive” on which to rely and hanging their hat on an interpretation found in a case they acknowledge “lacks precedential force,” the justices decided that the phrase “resided in” has one meaning when applied to voters and another when applied to candidates.
This distinction, Lampkin notes, “is a figment of the majority’s imagination” and “a standard that the majority just conjured out of thin air.” In the process, the justices disregarded a case that has guided residency rulings for 122 years, she 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,” Lampkin wrote. Amen.
The tortured logic employed here to deny Chicago voters a full slate of candidates raises the question: Is this about law or politics? It’s a question that will grow louder as the case heads to the Supreme Court, where every justice owes his or her election to political supporters. Justice Anne M. Burke is married to Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, who is backing mayoral candidate Gery Chico.
Anne Burke should not duck this case, though. A recusal that led to a 3-3 tie on the court would essentially be a vote to uphold the appellate court decision.
On a conference call Monday, elections board chairman Langdon Neal said it’s not certain the Supreme Court will even take up the case. That would be a gross miscarriage of justice.
But the picture is complicated even if the court eventually rules in Emanuel’s favor. The board can’t wait any longer, Neal said, and has ordered 2 million ballots without Emanuel’s name; it’s also going forward with touch-screen early voting beginning Monday and mailing out absentee and military ballots. If the court orders Emanuel reinstated and the ballots reprinted, it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars ― and ballots that have already been cast cannot be redone. It’s a mess.
All of which makes one thing clear: The Supreme Court must set this right, and fast.
(The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 25)