Dueling court decisions are leading to a lack of consensus over which of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s actions intended to stop the coronavirus from spreading still stand.
Clay County Judge Michael McHaney has previously ruled in favor of lawsuits brought by state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, and on Thursday did so again, when he said that any and all COVID-19 related executive orders issued by Pritzker since early April are “void ab initio” as in, nullified as if they never existed in the eyes of the law.
“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,” McHaney wrote.
Bailey’s lawyer, Tom DeVore, said that as a result, none of the executive orders stand.
“It feels awesome because this is freedom,” Bailey said outside the downstate courthouse. "Somebody does not know what they are doing and that they desire totalitarian rule.”
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has not weighed in; his office issued a statement saying only “we are reviewing the decision and evaluating our options.”
But McHaney’s decision is one of many in response to lawsuits brought against Pritzker during the past couple of months questioning the governor’s authority, and the only one that has found Pritzker to exceeded his power.
As the Pritzker administration sees it, nothing in Clay County trumps those orders.
“Every other court – both state and federal – that has considered these exact issues has agreed with the administration that executive orders protecting Illinoisans’ health and safety are well within the governor’s constitutional authority,” Pritzker’s press office said in a statement. “Governor Pritzker will continue to prioritize Illinoisans’ health and safety first, and the people of Illinois have taken extraordinary care to follow health experts’ advice, which is why our state has the lowest positivity rate in the Midwest.
“While this one county circuit court has gone a different direction from all of the other cases, the administration will ultimately seek to appeal this ruling, and the Governor will continue to urge the people of Illinois to exercise constant vigilance and keep doing what has worked: wash your hands, watch your distance and wear your face covering,” the statement continued.
That includes a federal decision that also was issued on Thursday afternoon that upheld Pritzker’s COVID-19 orders, in a separate case brought by the chair of the Illinois Republican Party, represented by the Liberty Justice Center.
The GOP is seeking the same freedom for political parties to meet as do worshippers at religious gatherings.
Federal Judge Sara Ellis wrote that granting the state GOP that ability would pose a public health risk.
“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,” the order reads. “The Court acknowledges that Plaintiffs’ interest in gathering as a political party is important, especially leading up to an election.
“But this interest does not outweigh the Governor’s interest in protecting the health of Illinois’ residents during this unprecedented public health crisis,” the order continued. “Moreover, Plaintiffs may still engage in a number of expressive activities like phone banks, virtual strategy meetings, and, as of Friday, June 26, gatherings like fundraisers and meet-and-greet coffees that do not exceed 50 people.”
The Illinois GOP is appealing.
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