THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, usually the steadiest and most reliable editorial voice out there, got it wrong today. "Who's a Carpetbagger" argues that Rahm Emanuel should be kept on the ballot for mayor of Chicago. The newspaper's mistake, one usually associated with the left, is . . .
. . . to try to settle a legal issue with a policy argument.
The editors make perfectly sensible arguments about why Mr. Emanuel should be on the ballot, despite the ruling of a three-judge panel that he does not meet the residency standard required for holding municipal office in Illinois.
The candidate has lifelong ties to the city. He was a congressman from the city. He has an Illinois driver's licence and pays Illinois income taxes. He pays taxes on property in Chicago.
Okay, fine. For purposes of argument, let's assume that Illinois law should allow Mr. Emanuel to run for mayor.
But that's not the question. It's whether Illinois law, as written, does allow Mr. Emanuel to run for mayor. Is he an Illinois and Chicago resident, not in some abstract sense, but in the very specific sense required by existing Illinois law.
Nothing else matters, or should matter, to the Illinois judges charged with deciding this case. If the rule of law means anything, it has to mean that a court will enforce a law as written, even if the judges and Rahm Emanuel and the Wall Street Journal think it's a bad law.
This is especially important in elections. Political contests must be governed by the laws in place before the elections began, not by judge-made law constructed after the event to satisfy policy preferences, even legitimate ones, not found in the law books at the beginning.
That's what the Florida Supreme Court got wrong when it rejected "hypertechnical reliance upon statutory provisions" in deciding a lawsuit about the 2000 presidential race. That was a fancy way of saying that the court would ignore Florida's written election law, under which Bush-Cheney clearly won, and would attempt to create a new system, presumably fairer, for counting ballots. It was a transparent attempt to flip the election to Gore-Lieberman by changing the rules after the game had been played.
Even if the Florida court's critique of existing law were plausible, as a matter of policy, the court had no warrant to ignore a lawful statute and replace it with a court doctrine.
The Illinois supreme court should follow the law, wherever it leads. Anything other than that is the rule of man, not the rule of law.