The most serious legal threat to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order emerged Wednesday as a Republican lawmaker filed a lawsuit designed to potentially free all Illinoisans from the governor’s restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, state Rep. John Cabello said he won’t seek a temporary restraining order as long as he sees an effort begin to put the General Assembly back to work. A fellow Republican, state Rep. Darren Bailey, secured such an order earlier this week. But it applied only to Bailey, while Cabello’s could apply more broadly.
“The governor said that this is a political stunt — it’s partisan politics,” Cabello told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And I’m trying to show him that no, sir, this is not.”
Pritzker on Wednesday called the lawsuit “irresponsible” and “another attempt at grandstanding” by a state lawmaker. The state is also appealing the order secured by Bailey, who along with Cabello is a supporter of President Donald Trump. Both men are represented by downstate attorney Tom DeVore.
Cabello, of the Rockford area, filed his lawsuit Wednesday in Winnebago County Circuit Court on behalf of himself and “all citizens similarly situated.” It challenges Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, calling it “as broad as an ocean.” It alleges the power to isolate and quarantine people rests only with the state department of health, which has delegated that authority to local health departments. It also argues that state law gives certain due process rights to people subject to quarantine.
“Even if well intentioned by Pritzker, his actions as governor have left every citizen of this state completely devoid of any procedural due process rights to protect their liberty afforded them by the United States and Illinois constitutions,” the lawsuit states.
The arguments in Cabello’s lawsuit differ from the one filed last week by Bailey, who alleged that state law prohibited Pritzker from extending his stay-at-home order beyond 30 days. State lawyers have denied that the law restricts the governor in that way.
Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney took Bailey’s side Monday, declaring that “the Bill of Rights is being shredded” every second Pritzker’s order is in place.
Rather than seek a temporary restraining order like Bailey, Cabello said he is more interested in bringing the General Assembly back together. That would require lawmakers to gather for at least one vote in person — to approve virtual sessions going forward.
Still, even the judge in Clay County said that the Legislature could resolve questions about Pritzker’s authority. House Speaker Michael Madigan could pass such a law “in a New York minute,” the judge said.
Pritzker told reporters Wednesday that nothing is stopping the General Assembly from meeting, though its members would have to follow social distancing guidelines. Referring to the Legislature as a co-equal branch of the government, Pritzker said, “that’ll get decided by the leaders and the members themselves about whether and how to meet.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown called Cabello’s lawsuit “potentially more reckless than the Darren Bailey thing.”
“I think we’re waiting for some signals that we can be sure that the safety of the public and the staff and the members can be assured before we return,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the state is appealing the temporary restraining order secured this week by Bailey. State lawyers even filed a petition late Wednesday in an attempt to take it directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In a separate brief filed with the appellate court, state lawyers wrote, “if Bailey is or becomes infected, he could cause an outbreak in his community that would ultimately overwhelm local hospitals and inflict unnecessarily pain and suffering.”
The state’s lawyers also pointed to new lawsuits that have followed Bailey’s, such as Cabello’s.
“Illinoisans have been working together to prevent the sickness and death of our families, friends and neighbors, our health care workers and emergency responders, and the vulnerable among us,” the state lawyers wrote, adding that the temporary restraining order “threatens our collective efforts and puts the lives of our fellow Illinoisans at great risk.”