An Illinois Appellate Court today ruled that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel isn't an eligible candidate for mayor of Chicago because he has not been a legal resident of the city for at least one year.
The surprise 2-to-1 decision reverses earlier rulings by a Cook County judge and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners that had cleared the way for Emanuel's bid. It now casts doubt on whether Emanuel's name will be printed on city ballots, set to go to the printers in the next few days.
"I have no doubt that, in the end, that we will prevail in this effort," said Emanuel, who plans to appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. "My attorneys are going to ask for a stay [of the appeallate court's decision] there so I can get my name printed on the ballot as well."
The mayoral election is scheduled for Feb. 22.
The three-judge panel had distilled the debate over Emanuel's residency into two questions: whether Emanuel had "resided in the municipality" for at least one year as mandated by city code, and if not, whether he qualified for an exemption.
On the first issue, Judge Thomas Hoffman ruled that Emanuel did not fulfill residency requirements as intended by law.
"'Reside" generally means, among other things, 'to dwell permanently or continuously,' or to 'have a settled abode for a time,'" wrote Judge Thomas Hoffman for the majority. "We believe...that the phrase 'resided in' as used in the Municipal Code requires actual, not constructive, residence."
Municipal code provides an exemption to the residency requirement for an "elector or spouse" who has left the precinct or district on "business of the United States or of this state."
But Hoffman ruled that that provision only applied to voters, not candidates for public office. "We agree... that this exception applies to him," he wrote. "We disagree, however, with his position that the exception saves his candidacy. In our view, the exception...applies only to voter residency requirements, not to candidate residency requirements."
From January 2009 through October 2010, Emanuel physically resided in Washington, D.C., where he worked daily at the White House.
Emanuel told reporters Monday that a strongly worded dissenting opinion, written by Judge Bertina Lampkin, added to his confidence for a successful appeal.
Lampkin wrote that the candidate's intentions, borne out in the indisputed facts of the case, should definitvely resolve the residency question.
"The candidate never formed an intent to either change or terminate his residence in Chicago, or establish his residence in Washington, D.C., or any place other than Chicago," she wrote. "Because the candidate had established his Chicago residency, it is presumed to continue until the contrary is shown, and the burden of proof is on the person who claims that there has been a change."
The Illinois Supreme Court has seven justices, each elected from one of five judicial districts for a term of 10 years. It's unclear when the panel will hear an appeal of the Emanuel residency case.
Emanuel has been the frontrunner in the race to succeed long-time Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
The latest Chicago Tribune/WGN poll shows Emanuel with a two-to-one lead over his closest challenger, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. Forty-four percent of likely voters said they'd vote for Emanuel while 21 percent expressed support for Braun.
ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.