US Supreme Court Takes a Pass on Latest Challenge to Illinois Assault Weapons Ban

A gun store display is pictured in a file photo. (WTTW News)A gun store display is pictured in a file photo. (WTTW News)

Illinois’ ban on AR-15s and similar guns faces constitutional questions and legal challenges, but an attempt to get the law tossed on more unconventional grounds that called into question the credibility of the state’s Supreme Court failed.

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied to take up a petition filed by state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, that sought to overturn a ruling on a related case he’d brought before the Illinois Supreme Court.

The state court in August upheld Illinois’ year-old law banning semi-automatic guns.

Caulkins’ petition to get that ruling tossed did not center on Second Amendment rights.

Rather, he brought a due process challenge.

Caulkins asked the nation’s high court to find that the Illinois Supreme Court should have been disqualified from weighing in because state justices’ political campaigns had been heavily funded by backers of the gun law, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the statute and therefore was a defendant in the original case.

Democrats won a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court after a contested 2020 election cycle that saw new justices Mary Kay O’Brien and Elizabeth Rochford win heated, and expensive, races.

“The leaders of the other branches of government were the largest financial contributors to the respective judicial campaigns of Justices Rochford and O’Brien,” Caulkins’ petition to the U.S. Supreme Court reads.

Pritzker gave each of the two candidates’ campaigns $1 million, personally and through a trust.

“It is axiomatic that a fair hearing before a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process,” Caulkins petition to the U.S. Supreme court says. “Nothing could be more injurious to the judiciary than the perception that its independence is for sale.”

Caulkins had asked the Illinois Supreme Court to disqualify O’Brien and Rochford from hearing the case, but state justices, as the representative put it, “cast a deaf ear to the request.”

In his request to the U.S. Supreme Court, Caulkins also argued O’Brien and Rochford should have had to recuse themselves from the original case.

“Given the public attention to this case impacting the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, confidence in the impartiality and independence of the Illinois judiciary has been injured not only by the facts impelling recusal, but also by the content of the Orders declining recusal,” Caulkins’ petition to the U.S. Supreme Court read. “When a State Supreme Court creates the constitutional denial of due process by its actions, this honorable Court is the only recourse.”

State legislators passed the Protect Illinois Communities (PICA) law after a gunman allegedly used a Smith & Wesson M&P loaded with high-capacity magazines to kill seven people and injure dozens more at a Fourth of July parade in 2022.

“Another attempt to overturn our assault weapons ban has been DENIED! No matter the roadblocks, I'll never stop fighting against the gun lobby's dangerous agenda. Together, let's continue to make Illinois a safer place for all,” Pritzker wrote Monday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not give any explanation for why it didn’t take up Caulkin’s petition. The case was on a list posted Monday along with dozens of others the high court will not hear.

“The denial of a hearing does not mean SCOTUS approves the conduct of the Justices. It is not just that they received donations from gun control advocates, but it also is the exorbitant amount of money they received in donations. There is no question, they should have recused themselves,” Caulkins said in a statement on Monday.

A spokesman for the state Supreme Court did not immediately return a request for comment from the court, O’Brien or Rochford.

A spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court said the justices had no comment, in accord with the state’s judicial code  

Federal challenges to Illinois’ so-called assault weapons ban on Second Amendment grounds are underway, and many observers protect the U.S. Supreme Court may eventually make the final call. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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