Rahm Emanuel Court Case: As Usual in Chicago Politics, the Plot Thickens

Article excerpt

Chicago awaits Illinois Supreme Court ruling on whether Rahm Emanuel can be on the mayoral ballot, amid questions about the justices' political leanings and how they win their seats.

Rahm Emanuel's fight to be on the ballot in the Chicago mayor's race now hinges on a decision, expected any day, by the Illinois Supreme Court. But like most political battles in this state, the case is not as straightforward as it appears, with some speculating it could be colored by political allegiances on the high court itself.

A state appellate court ordered Mr. Emanuel's name off the ballot Monday, saying he did not meet the requirements of an Illinois law mandating that all candidates reside in the municipality in which they are seeking office for at least one year. Emanuel returned to Chicago in October to run for mayor after serving as White House chief of staff for two years in Washington.

His decision rocked the political world in Chicago, where Emanuel is a front-runner and is polling at 44 percent, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released last week.

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His future is now in the hands of the seven-member Illinois Supreme Court. High-court justices are elected in Illinois - and they campaign under a partisan banner - a fact that has left some residents asking whether Emanuel's hearing will be fair or whether politics might enter into the decision.

"Rahm's relearning how tough Chicago can be and the extent to which his status here depends on the view of seven people with whom he has had precious little contact," says Chris Robling, a former Chicago election commissioner.

Four of the seven court justices are Democrats, three of whom received financial support from the Cook County Democratic Party, the longtime political organization in Chicago informally known as The Machine. This partisan judicial election system creates the appearance of conflict - if not real conflict of interest - in cases like Emanuel's, say critics who want party affiliation to be removed from the slate of judicial candidates. …