Illinois Supreme Court to hear arguments March 14 on SAFE-T Act as attorney general attacks ‘grab bag’ of arguments against it

Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington sided with opponents just days before a bail reform provision was to take effect, ruling in favor of a group of state’s attorneys and sheriffs.

SHARE Illinois Supreme Court to hear arguments March 14 on SAFE-T Act as attorney general attacks ‘grab bag’ of arguments against it
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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks as Gov. J.B. Pritzker prepares to sign a sweeping criminal justice reform bill Feb. 22, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Illinois Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on whether the far-reaching SAFE-T Act and its elimination of cash bail is unconstitutional, as a Kankakee judge ruled at the end of last year.

The court set a date of March 14 as the office of Illinois Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul filed a motion Monday urging the court to reject the “grab bag of constitutional theories” raised by the law’s opponents.

Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas Cunnington sided with those opponents just days before the bail reform provision were to take effect, ruling in favor of a group of state’s attorneys and sheriffs who brought more than 60 lawsuits challenging aspects of the law.

Cunnington ruled that part of the act violated a requirement in the state Constitution that requires defendants be bailable “by sufficient sureties,” except for certain offenses. He also found that it violated the separation of powers between the judiciary and Legislature.

“The appropriateness of bail rests with the authority of the court and may not be determined by legislative fiat,” Cunnington wrote in his ruling.

Legislators who wrote the bill, and reform advocates who support it, have argued that cash bail is inherently unfair and doesn’t benefit public safety when some defendants accused of crimes are released ahead of trial while others are held in jail because they lack the financial ability to post bond.

Opponents to the law argue lawmakers violated the state’s constitution when they failed to seek approval from voters through a constitutional amendment, and they say they would “strongly support” such a system if the state had done so.

“This did not occur,” opponents argued in a motion before the state Supreme Court earlier this month. “In so doing, the General Assembly has illegitimately attempted to amend the Illinois Constitution.”

In its motion filed Monday, the attorney general insisted that the state Constitution not does require Illinois to maintain a system of cash bail.

“Plaintiffs’ grab bag of constitutional theories should be rejected: None of these constitutional provisions locks in place the institution of monetary bail,” the motion contends.

Instead, the motion argues, the state Constitution “grants criminal defendants a qualified right to seek pretrial release.”

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