Thursday, March 24, 2011

Supreme Court decides judicial residency case

In Goodman v. Ward, the Illinois Supreme Court today ruled that a candidate for a subcircuit judicial vacancy must be a resident of the subcircuit at the time he or she files for office.

Chris Ward wanted to run for judge in the 4th Subcircuit of the 12th Judicial Circuit (Will County) in last year's primary. Ward was not a resident of that subcircuit when he filed his nomination papers and he did not misrepresent his address. He did, however, execute a Statement of Candidacy, required by law, in which he swore, "I am legally qualified to hold the office of Circuit Court Judge, 12th District [sic], 4th Judicial Subcircuit."

But was he legally qualified? Ward's petitions were challenged by Daniel Goodman (whose wife, Carmen, was the only other aspirant for the Democratic nomination in that subcircuit) on the grounds that Ward was not eligible for office because he was not a resident of the subcircuit. Two members of the Will County electoral board, "mindful of the precept that ballot access should be favored," concluded that "that the governing provisions of the Illinois Constitution were 'arguably ambiguous and uncertain'" and that Ward should therefore be permitted to run (slip op. at 2).

Goodman appealed. The Circuit Court agreed with Goodman, knocking Ward off the ballot. The Appellate Court also agreed with Goodman, though there was a dissent.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear Ward's appeal, but not to expedite it. In the meantime, Carmen Goodman remained unopposed for the Democratic nomination. She defeated the Republican nominee in November of last year and took office in December. The Supreme Court stated, however, that it would decide Ward's appeal under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine (slip op. at 4-5).

In ruling against Ward's candidacy today, the Court stated that a candidate for judicial office must be a resident of the unit from which he or she seeks election at the time he or she files to run. Section 7-10 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7–10) prescribes the form that a candidate must file (slip op. at 8):
The form’s language calls for a candidate to swear or affirm that, among other things, “I am legally qualified (including being the holder of any license that may be an eligibility requirement for the office I seek the nomination for) to hold such office ***.” (Emphasis added.) 10 ILCS 5/7–10 (West 2008). Because “am” indicates present tense and because the signed statement must accompany the nominating petition when it is filed, the statute can only be understood to mean that a candidate must meet the qualifications of office at the time he or she files a nomination petition with electoral authorities. No principle of English grammar or statutory construction permits an interpretation of the law which would allow candidates to defer meeting the qualifications of office until some later time.
The Supreme Court noted, too, that the Will County electoral board did not misinterpret §7-10; instead, the board "looked directly to provisions of the Illinois Constitution governing eligibility for judicial office (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §11) and the election of judges (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §12(a)). It interpreted those provisions as requiring only that a person be a resident of the subcircuit at or after the time he or she is actually elected. * * * Implicit in the electoral board majority’s approach was that the Constitution’s eligibility requirements differed from those contained in the Election Code and that to the extent of the difference, the provisions of the Election Code were unconstitutional and could be
disregarded. This was a determination the electoral board had no authority to make." (Slip op. at 9-10).

Some in the news media may be surprised by today's decision in Goodman v. Ward. After Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners of City of Chicago, --- Ill.2d ---, --- N.E.2d --- (2011) (2011 WL 242421) -- the Rahm Emanuel case -- some may have imagined that a new age of relaxed ballot access had dawned. They may have actually believed that candidates will no longer have to worry about slick political operatives poring over stacks of petitions, looking for picayune or technical defects with which to knock good candidates off the ballot.

But there should be no surprise. Barring major legislative reform of the State's election laws, prospective candidates remain well advised to seek competent counsel familiar with every twist and turn of ballot requirements. And keep in mind, too, that different ballot access rules apply to candidates for different offices. As the Supreme Court pointed out today (slip op. at 13), "No rule of law forbids states from imposing different eligibility requirements for membership in the different branches of its government, and no principle of legal reasoning permits an inference that the framers did not intend to do precisely that here."

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