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Illinois Supremes: Emanuel to stay on ballot

Rahm Emanuel will stay on the ballot. That's the word from the Illinois Supreme Court.  In a stinging rebuke, the Court overturned an appellate court ruling that found Emanuel failed to meet a one-year residency requirement to run for Chicago mayor. The Supreme Court majority opinion said the "novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law. "

The justices unanimously found that the appellate court was wrong in overruling decisions by the Chicago Election Board and a Cook County Circuit Court judge that Emanuel had fulfilled residency requirements. 

"Only when abandonment is proven is residency lost," according to the majority ruling.  "Again, because it is uncontested that the candidate was a Chicago resident at least until January 2, 2009, when he resigned his office as Representative from the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois, the Board correctly determined that the relevant question was not whether the candidate had established residency in Chicago, but rather whether the objectors had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that thecandidate had abandoned that residency at any time during the one year period before the February 22, 2011, election." 

In explaining its decision further, the Supreme Court majority wrote:  "So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear. 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."

The decision likely ends the months-long debate over whether Emanuel's time living in Washington, D.C. while working as President Obama's chief of staff meant that he had given up his Chicago residency. A former congressman from the city's North Side, Emanuel has insisted he always intended to return to Chicago after completing his White House service.

This fall, more than two dozen objections were filed with the Chicago Board of Elections seeking to have Emanuel removed from the ballot. The hearings that followed included a nearly 12-hour testimony from Emanuel himself. A hearing officer eventually ruled in favor of the candidate, a recommendation confirmed by the three commissioners on the election board.

On judicial review, the decision was upheld by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mark Ballard, but reversed by a state appellate court panel this past Monday. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appeals court found that Emanuel was indeed eligible to vote in the February 22nd election, but was not eligible to be a candidate.

Less than a day later, Emanuel's team appealed the decision, and within hours the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case on an expedited basis. At roughly the same time, the court ordered the election board to include Emanuel's name on all ballots it was printing while the appeal was still under consideration.

The state Supreme Court's decision to keep Emanuel on the ballot likely ends the ballot challenge. Earlier this month, lawyers for both sides acknowledged there was no U.S. Constitutional issue that could land the case in the federal courts.

Emanuel returned to Chicago in October of 2010. This followed the announcement by longtime Mayor Richard Daley that he would not seek re-election to the office.

In a recent Chicago Tribune poll taken before the appeals court ruling, Emanuel held a wide lead over the five other candidates in the race. Emanuel was garnering 44 percent, with former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun winning 21 percent. Gery Chico, a former school board head appointed by Daley, had 16 percent, with City Clerk Miguel del Valle at 7 percent.

Former non-profit director Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and community activist and frequent candidate Bill "Dock" Walls are also on the ballot.

Cate Cahan contributed to this report.

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