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Why the Court Got It Wrong for Rahm

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Let me be frank, I don't support Rahm Emanuel for any public position. He supports the Patriot Act, a blatant attack on American civil liberties, and has expressed support for the War in Iraq and increased funding for the War on Drugs. I certainly don't trust him to protect civil liberties in a city like Chicago with a less than ideal history of police violence and abuse.

That said, the guy should be allowed to run for mayor.

The decision released today barring Emanuel from his candidacy in Chicago lays out a complicated statutory interpretation argument. The simplified version is that, while there are all sorts of exceptions to residency for voters, when it comes to candidates, if you're not keeping most of your family and assets in a city, you aren't a resident. Period. In fact, one commentator rightly pointed out that, if Emanuel had kept his house in Chicago and left his family here, there would never be a question of his ability to run for mayor.

Under Illinois election law, if a person is away from a location "on business of the United States," residency is not revoked. However, if a person is a candidate, there is some debate as to whether this "business" exception applies. One could even say that, under a strict construction interpretation of the statutory language (following all the rules of interpretation laid out for courts in the U.S.), the "business" exception clearly does not apply to candidates for mayor.

Well, I don't care and the courts shouldn't either.

While we can haggle about language when interpreting laws, we can also take a big picture look at the purpose of a particular piece of legislation and the intention of its drafters. The Illinois statute makes all kinds of exceptions to the strict interpretation of the word residency because it makes sense to allow certain people to leave a state and still maintain their allegiance and investment in it. When one serves in the armed forces, one is not forced to give up residency. The same goes for an individual called up to serve in the White House: they are acting in the public good (granted, it's a loose version of the term "good").

The point is that, when an individual relocates to serve the highest ranking public official in the country, he should not be penalized afterwards. He certainly should not be penalized for refusing to waste money by keeping a house in a city in which he no longer lives. He should not be penalized for asking his wife and children to live in the same city as him. These are not reasonable requirements and they should not be practices reinforced by the courts.

We should encourage people to pursue public office. We should also encourage them to bring their experiences and understanding back to their local communities. The court might have written a clever technical decision. But they still got it all wrong.