Unanimous: Illinois Supreme Court rules Rahm is eligible for mayor

A very sharp Chicago-lawyer pal read this post the other day and tut-tutted me by claiming it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the Illinois Supremes would rule the other way.

Okay then.

A cheer went up at Emanuel’s headquarters when the news came out. The candidate was preparing to leave for tonight’s debate with the three other leading contenders…

“So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear,” the Supreme Court wrote in its ruling today. “This court’s decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board’s factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board’s decision was not clearly erroneous.”

Here’s the opinion, which is simply brutal in its treatment of the appellate decision. To the untrained eye it might not seem harsh, but by the standards of legal decisions, this is the rhetorical equivalent of the flipping o’ the bird. Which seems appropriate, given who the plaintiff is:

Thus, from April 1867 through January 24 of this year, the principles governing the question before us were settled. Things changed, however, when the appellate court below issued its decision and announced that it was no longer bound by any of the law cited above, including this court’s decision in Smith, but was instead free to craft its own original standard for determining a candidate’s residency. See No. 1–11–0033, slip op. at 6-8 (dismissing the foregoing authority in its entirety). Thus, our review of the appellate court’s decision in this case begins not where it should, with an assessment of whether the court accurately applied established Illinois law to the particular facts, but with an assessment of whether the appellate court was justified in tossing out 150 years of settled residency law in favor of its own preferred standard. We emphatically hold that it was not…

By way of final thought on this question, we wish to point out that, while this court’s traditional definition of residence may be plugged into the Municipal Code without creating any ambiguity or confusion, the appellate court’s new and undefined standard promises just the opposite. Although adopting a previously unheard-of test for residency that would have applied to all future municipal elections, the court made no attempt to explain what its standard means. The only hint given by the appellate court is that, whatever its standard means, this candidate did not satisfy it. The appellate court never explained what it meant by “actually reside” or “actually live.” Indeed, as its discussion of section 3.1–10–5(d) reflects, the entire appellate court opinion can be read as nothing more than an extended exercise in question begging, in which the appellate court sets forth the question to be answered as what it means to “reside” (No. 1–11–0033, slip op. at 11), and concludes that it means to have “actually resided” (No. 1–11–0033, slip op. at 21).

So harsh is it, in fact, that two justices wrote a separate concurrence criticizing the court for being unduly vicious towards the appellate court. (“[T]he tone taken by the majority today is unfortunate…”) And so there you have it: Not only does Rahm win 7-0 and get a boatload of triumphant headlines right before the big mayoral debate, he’s actually got five members of the state supreme court doing an end-zone dance on his behalf. Well f***ing played, Rahm. Very well f***ing played.