Gov. Pritzker beats GOP federal case, loses downstate county challenge

Executive orders in effect after April 8 ruled void by Clay County judge.
Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 5:49 PM CDT
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A downstate judge has ruled in favor of a Republican legislator in his lawsuit against Gov. Pritzker over whether the Illinois governor exceeded his legal authority in issuing a stay-at-home order in March to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just hours earlier, Gov. Pritzker notched a win in federal court against the Illinois Republican Party, which sued the governor claiming he violated the GOP’s constitutional rights to assemble during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

In the downstate lawsuit, state Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) and his attorneys fought keep it in state court. Clay County Judge Michael McHaney ruled in favor of the legislator, according to the governor’s office. The ruling will be appealed.

According to the order, the judge ruled that the 30-days of emergency powers provided under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act lapsed on April 8 and any executive orders in effect after that date relating to COVID-19 are void, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

It also grants Bailey’s request that his complaint “be a representative action and apply to all citizens of the State of Illinois.”

“The court declares defendant had no Illinois constitutional authority as governor to restrict a citizen’s movement or activities and/or forcibly close business premises...” the order says.

The judge also ruled none of the cited provisions in the emergency management act allowed Pritzker “to restrict a citizen’s movement or activities and/or forcibly close business premises.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois Republican Party suit, filed in mid-June, argued that while religious groups and protesters have been allowed to gather in groups of more than 10 under Pritzker’s disaster declaration, political groups were not allowed to share the same freedoms — which they said are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

The judge rejected that argument.

“Granting Plaintiffs the relief they seek would pose serious risks to public health,” U.S. District Court Judge Sara L. Ellis wrote in an opinion. “Plaintiffs contend that in-person speech is most effective, and their communications are hampered by gathering limits. But the current state of our nation demands that we sacrifice the benefits of in-person interactions for the greater good. Enjoining the Order would risk infections amongst members of the Illinois Republican Party and its regional affiliates, as well as their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.”

Ellis wrote that the “risks are too great” for the political organization to be able to gather with no limits. She also wrote that the GOP can do phone banking, virtual strategy meetings and meet in groups of 50 or less. The state last Friday entered into Phase 4 of Pritzker’s reopening plan which allowed for a larger capacity for gatherings, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Ellis, too, said allowing the political party to gather without limits “would open the floodgates to challenges from other groups that find in-person gatherings most effective.”

“It would also require that the Court turn a blind eye to the increase in infections across a high majority of states, which as of July 1, 2020 includes Illinois,” Ellis wrote.

The Democratic governor in late April extended a COVID-19 executive order that allows for religious groups to gather in accordance with safety guidelines. It included freedom of religion as an “essential activity.” But all gatherings over 10 were still not advised. At one point, CDC guidelines to stem the spread of COVID-19 advised against gatherings of more than 10 people, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Pritzker has attended several large events since the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and has defended those appearances by saying he was exercising his First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit cites one of those Pritzker appearances.

But despite the GOP’s arguments, Ellis wrote in her opinion that “the Constitution does not accord a political party the same express protections as it provides to religion.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which also includes the Will County Republican Central Committee, the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization and the Northwest Side GOP Club, have already filed a motion in federal court to appeal the ruling, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

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