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.