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Rahm owes it all to a Civil War vet

Friday, Jan 28, 2011 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My Sun-Times column

A month after returning home to Galesburg from service in the Civil War, an attorney named Arthur Smith decided to move to Tennessee.

Smith wasn’t sure if a Yankee could live down South, but he was stationed in Tennessee during the war and he liked it. Smith rented out his Galesburg house, stored some of his stuff with friends, packed up the rest and headed down the Mississippi River with his family.

Smith quickly discovered that the postwar South was just too hostile for people like him. He never bought a house there, refused to vote in a Tennessee election for fear of losing his Illinois citizenship and wouldn’t even sell his Illinois law books because he figured he could very well end up moving back home.

Six months later, he did just that. As soon as the Mississippi River became navigable, Smith moved his family back to Galesburg. Less than a year later, the Illinois governor appointed him to a judgeship.

Trouble was, state law required judges to reside in Illinois for five years before their appointment, so somebody filed a lawsuit claiming Smith didn’t meet the residency requirement.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. The facts are eerily similar to the Rahm Emanuel saga. A guy rents out his house, leaves town, decides to move back home, takes a shot at political office — and somebody claims he doesn’t actually reside there.

And, just like with Emanuel, a lower court ruled that Smith wasn’t a resident and therefore couldn’t qualify for his job. But in 1867, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that it was clearly Smith’s intent to remain an Illinoisan. He didn’t sell his home, he rented it. He didn’t do anything in Tennessee to disturb his Illinois residency.

It doesn’t sound right to a lot of people today, and a dissenting Supreme Court justice way back then agreed, thundering that Smith moved out of Illinois and that should be all that mattered.

The “intent” standard established by the majority in that Supreme Court case has held sway ever since. Until, that is, Emanuel got booted off the ballot by the appellate court this week. The appeals court used tortuous reasoning and previous residency cases on voters — not candidates — to buttress its argument that Emanuel couldn’t run.

But the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned that flawed appellate court decision Thursday in a blistering opinion that blasted the appeals court judges for overturning 150 years of precedent and replacing it with a standard that the judges didn’t bother to define.

The appeals court had said “reside in” means “actually live in,” but the justices didn’t specify how, exactly, that could be measured. Taken to a logical extreme, if congressmen or state legislators spent months living outside the district doing their jobs, does that mean they would not legally be residents of their districts? It’s ridiculous, of course. Obviously, they have no intent on living in Washington, D.C., or Springfield.

Maybe a case of obvious abandonment of a residency can help clear things up.

A few years ago, former Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas wanted to run for office in Illinois but was told he couldn’t. Unlike Judge Smith and Rahm Emanuel, Vallas sold his Chicago house when he moved to Pennsylvania. He registered to vote in Philadelphia and then he voted there. He made his intent crystal clear with those actions, so he couldn’t run for office in Illinois.

Smith and Emanuel, on the other hand, had no intention of ever becoming citizens of another state, and they clearly proved it. Case closed.

If Rahm’s elected mayor, he ought to name a street after Judge Smith.


  1. - Pat Collins - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:46 am:

    If Rahm’s elected mayor, he ought to name a street after Judge Smith.

    Or buy a vacation home in Tennessee….

  2. - publius - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:48 am:

    The intellectual acrobatics of the supreme opinion is appalling. What is the point of having a “business of the united states” or “military” exception if all you need is intent as opposed to intent and physical presence. They ignored three later supreme court opinions-pope, park and clark.

  3. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:50 am:

    ===What is the point of having a “business of the united states” or “military” exception===

    The military exception was window dressing. The “biz of the US” and those other cases you mentioned were about voters, not candidates.

  4. - Living in Oklahoma - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:50 am:

    That darn logic and reason. I hate it when it works to the advantage of people I don’t want to see elected. : )

  5. - Just Asking - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:52 am:

    Was Smith a good Judge? If so, logic dictates Chicago has a bright future.

  6. - publius - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:52 am:

    So what supremes said “residence” means the same thing for voter or candidacy purposes.

  7. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 9:52 am:

    The Illinois Supreme Court clarification on Chicago residency is a double win for Emanuel.

    1. It got him on the ballot.
    2. It recognized those previously disenfranchised voters residing in Chicago cemeteries who await Rahm’s rule on Earth.

  8. - Just Observing - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:00 am:

    I think Rahm’s case was stronger than Arthur Smith. Smith intended to move and make a life in Tennessee but just had a backup plan in case things didnt’ work out.

    BTW… I wonder if Arthur Smith would have predicted people blogging about him in 2011?

  9. - pizzajohnny - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:04 am:

    Many people see this as another win for multi-millionaires with multi-millionaire out of state donors and “friends” in the Daley, Clinton, and Obama camps having enough political clout to avoid being held to the letter of the law. That being said, I think whoever is elected mayor will have a rough row to hoe due to the economy and following in the little Irishman’s footsteps. The successor will fail miserably - I hope not for the sake of the people of the state of Chicago - but I think he/she [no way is it a she but have to be pc with all the Dems reading the blog:)]will.

  10. - phocion - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:05 am:

    Great article, Rich. Well-written, logical, and interesting. You were able to make a fairly abstract notion understandable for the masses. Good job!

  11. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:06 am:

    “And they were judged, all these were judged - the righteous and the wicked; those in shoes of concrete in the River and those buried upon the Land, and the Supreme Ones shall determine their eligibility to vote for the one called Emanuel, the Chosen One.” - Revelations 20:13

  12. - Aldyth - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:06 am:

    Thanks for the walk through history. Fascinating story with powerful impact today.

  13. - Bigtwich - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:06 am:

    Wow. There is no Smith Street in Chicago! Ah! There is a Smith Park! 2526 West Grand Avenue

  14. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:08 am:

    VM, are you really John Kass? The resemblance is eerie.

  15. - umm - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:15 am:

    ==VM, are you really John Kass? The resemblance is eerie.==

    Might be the best line of the year so far!!

  16. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:16 am:

    Speaking of Art Smith, a man named Art Smith (Art’s Bus Service) has been on the Chicago Police Board for years and does not live in Chicago. He receives monies from the City for services regarding his employment on the Police Board. Should he have to live in the City?

  17. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:21 am:

    I do not read Mr. Kass’ articles. I’m riffing for Friday fun.

    According to the delivery folks for Meals On Wheels, wordslinger needs my little postings to keep his pulse going. I like doing what I can to brighten the day for shut-ins like him.

  18. - mokenavince - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:23 am:

    Thank goodness for Rich Miller,clear thinking and writing very tough to find. I figured I only liked you because you were a White Sox fan.Keep up the good work.It’s funny only Ed Burke’s lackeys thought Rham was not worthy.

  19. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:24 am:

    History like the Smith story is always fascinating.

    It’s all around, too. I used to have an apartment near the Arsenal Bridge in Davenport. One day, after living there for months, I noticed a dirty, barely legible plaque bronze plaque on the warehouse next door. It marked the site as the former quarters of Dred Scott, whose “owner” was a doctor at Ft.Armstrong on Rock Island.

    Scott’s presence in Iowa Territory, free under the Missouri Compromise, served as the basis for his suit that culminated with infamous decision by Chief Justice Taney.

    A couple of blocks down the street was the old, abandoned Vale Hotel, where Ronald Reagan lived when he left Eureka and started his radio career at WOC.

  20. - soccermom - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:44 am:

    VM, I think your church is using a different translation than mine…

  21. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 10:46 am:

    Ballad of Arthur Smith

    Come and listen to a story about a man named Smith,
    Civil War vet that got into a tiff,
    Told by a judge he was not a resident,
    Rich Miller claims his case was precedent.
    (Politics that is, votes sold, nothing free)

    Well the first thing you know old Smith is a judge,
    After the Supremes ruled, he didn’t hold a grudge,
    If Emanuel is elected, it would be kind of neat,
    If the new mayor would give old Smith a street!

  22. - amalia - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 11:03 am:

    oh, thank goodness we have this to talk about. otherwise we might have to discuss the substance of the debate that was televised last night.

  23. - McHenry Mike - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 11:09 am:

    The thing about 150 year old cases, is that they are 150 year old cases. Zorn made a good comment today that the GA should take this opportunity to clear up the law and update it for the modern age. Any one want to take bets on whether or not they do?

  24. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 11:10 am:

    ===take this opportunity to clear up the law and update it for the modern age===

    I wrote about that topic for subscribers this week. It’s almost impossible.

  25. - levois - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 12:02 pm:

    “I wonder if Arthur Smith would have predicted people blogging about him in 2011?”

    PFFT…not sure he even would understand what a blog is and all these new fangled contraptions we have created over time. :P

  26. - piling on - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 12:14 pm:

    Little known fact: Arthur Smith did in fact blog about this, on the back of a coal shovel, lamenting that technology had not yet caught up to his idea of a telegraph-esque system of 1s and 0s that span the globe like a world wide net. He also said the General Assembly, in the 2010 fiscal year, should balance the budget with cuts, not tax increases and predicted the demise of the capital bill on a single-subject violation brought on by the owner of an NHL team. Oh, and he predicted Mike Madigan’s fall from the speaker’s chair in the mid-90s but accurately assessed it would be for only two years and the incident would forever change Madigan, who would never lose again.
    As we are only now learning, he was truly a man ahead of his time

  27. - Esquire - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 12:29 pm:

    Paul Vallas takes a job in Philadelphia. His family purchases a house in the Chicago suburbs. Wife and kids live there. Dad commutes home each weekend and spends time with family. NON-RESIDENT ineligible to run for office.

    Rahm Emanuel takes job in Washington. Leases house to strangers. Wife and children move to D.C. and continue to live there. Emanuel is absent for more than a year and a half. RESIDENT eligible to run for office.

    Different strokes for different folks? Different judges produce different results?

  28. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 12:40 pm:

    Esquire, can you not read?

  29. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 2:40 pm:

    Esquire, my memory is shaky about the Vallas stuff. It sounds to me like you’re arguing a hypothetical case. I don’t remember Vallas actually filing to run for office in Illinios after 2002. Am I wrong?

  30. - Esquire - Friday, Jan 28, 11 @ 4:39 pm:

    He tried to do something, but it never got beyond the exploratory stage. A judge ruled against him, but the residency requirement at issue was longer than Chicago’s. It was for statewide office (governor), but he never got his campaign off the ground. Lacking Emanuel’s wealth, he did not file and knowing that a legal contest was likely and that he would need a court ruling to reach the ballot for governor.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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