Q: I was surprised to hear that former President Obama was called for jury duty last Wednesday in Chicago. How can a person who has lived out of the state for almost nine years — and now unemployed for almost a year — still be considered an Illinois resident for legal purposes?
W.A.M. of O’Fallon
A: If you remember, some grumbled about much the same thing a year ago before Hillary Clinton crashed and burned (in the Electoral College, at least).
How could Obama, who had spent 99 44/100 percent of the previous eight years in the nation’s capitol, now show his face in the Windy City to vote? Yet there he was on Oct. 7, rushing into the basement of the Chicago Board of Elections office to mark his ballot as he took advantage of the state’s early-voting laws during a presidential visit.
“What’s my date of birth? 8/4/81?” he quipped as he asked for his ballot. “Nice try!” an office worker shot back.
But neither his joking attempt at misinformation or his recent lengthy residence in Washington, D.C., disqualified the nation’s 44th president from voting in Chicago. Why? The reason might have surprised you: Because he was serving the people.
You see, people who own houses in different states can designate any of them as their official residence for purposes of voter registration as long as they can reasonably claim it’s their legitimate home. Some might argue that was a stretch for the Obamas, whom their new neighbors didn’t even see for several months after moving in in 2011. But Illinois law gave the Obamas an out: The residency requirement has an exemption for those who are absent from the state “on business of the United States.” And I’d say if a president can’t claim that exemption, nobody can. Obama’s voting was perfectly legal.
So despite all his years away and his current “unemployment,” the same holds true for his obligation for jury duty. Because he claims his Kenwood neighborhood home (5046 S. Greenwood Ave., if you want to walk by it sometime) as his official residence, he is subject to be called for jury duty just like every other city resident. In fact, he was summoned in January 2010, but successfully pleaded his case for postponing his reporting: He was too busy writing his State of the Union address.
Last Wednesday, wearing a dark sport coat and dress shirt but no tie, Obama showed up to throngs of people inside the courthouse shooting photos and videos. Like most days, other would-be jurors bought books to read, but this time many were books authored by the former president in hopes he would sign them. He reportedly did so graciously and patiently posed for countless selfies.
Later, he would suffer through a decades-old, 20-minute video in which NBC News anchor Lester Holt (who was a young reporter in Chicago at the time) explained the importance and rigmarole of serving on a jury. Then, shortly before noon, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans told the army of breathless reporters that Obama had not been selected for a trial and they could go home. He would be paid the usual stipend of $17.20, which he would donate to Cook County, his spokeswoman, Katie Hill, said.
You may remember that he is not the first former president to be called to jury duty. In 2015, George W. Bush was summoned in Dallas and so was Bill Clinton in 2003 in New York City, although, like Obama, they were not selected.
As for voting, a Slate Magazine investigation found no incumbent president has ever cast his vote in Washington, D.C. And before you complain too much, remember that state law also has exemptions for members of the military and those living in nursing homes.
What famous Chicago resident served on a jury that convicted a man of murder?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: You’ll find the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, a Buddhist temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka, which is said to house a tooth relic from Gautama Buddha, upon whose teaching Buddhism was founded.