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Downstate Republican sues Pritzker over stay-at-home order — but president could prove governor’s trump card

Pritzker could look for legal cover from Trump – despite the ongoing TV and Twitter battle between the two. The president declared a national state of emergency that backs up Pritzker’s emergency powers, one legal expert said.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right.
State Rep. Darren Bailey, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right.
Facebook; Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — A slight easing of restrictions under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order was not enough for one southern Illinois Republican, so he did what so many others do when they feel like they’ve been wronged.

State Rep. Darren Bailey sued.

But ironically, the Democratic governor’s best defense against the suit might be to point to President Donald Trump.

Pritzker’s announcement Thursday that he planned to extend his coronavirus containment order — but make it a bit more lax — met with mixed reactions from Republicans.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said he was pleased that Pritzker eased some of his restrictions, calling it “the first step in moving Illinois forward.” But Bailey filed a lawsuit, asking a Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction to overturn the executive order.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, in 2019.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks with the media in Springfield last year.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register file

“Enough is enough. I filed this lawsuit on behalf of myself and my constituents who are ready to go back to work and resume a normal life,” Bailey said in a statement.

Bailey filed his complaint in Clay County, which has reported two COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. Bailey lives in the southern Illinois town of Xenia, population 364.

In his lawsuit, Bailey alleges that Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which first took effect on March 21 as an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, violates his civil rights. The lawsuit states that Bailey has been “irreparably harmed each and every day” as the order limits his ability to travel.

In response, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said that the governor “has followed the guidance of public health experts and used the emergency powers authorized in State law to protect the health and lives of all Illinoisans.”

“Now is not the time to stop our work, because must remember lives are at stake,” she said. “It is truly unfortunate that a legislator is working against our public health efforts.”

One legal expert didn’t give Bailey’s legal move much hope.

Ann Lousin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall School of Law, said Bailey’s lawsuit has some merit in the abstract, but a judge is unlikely to rule in his favor.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces a shelter in place order; President Donald Trump, right, speaks about the coronavirus in Washington.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces his shelter-in-place order last month; President Donald Trump, right, speaks about the coronavirus in Washington on March 23.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file; Alex Brandon/AP file

“It seems to me that it is going to go nowhere, but it is an interesting statutory argument,” Lousin said.

On March 9, Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation over the coronavirus, something that he renewed again on April 9.

Lousin said Illinois law limits a governor’s power to issue multiple disaster proclamations for the same disaster.

But Pritzker can look for legal cover from Trump – despite the ongoing TV and Twitter battle between the two.

The president declared a national state of emergency that backs up Pritzker’s emergency powers, Lousin said.

“It isn’t just him [Pritzker] saying there is a continuing emergency, we have a president of the United States, who — whatever else you may think of him — does see that there is a problem,” Lousin said.

Pritzker announced Thursday he is extending his stay-at-home order until May 30, with some changes that ease some of the restrictions that will allow state parks to open and hospitals to begin to start performing elective procedures again. The list of essential businesses allowed to remain open was also expanded a bit.

While some Republicans in Downstate Illinois have pushed back against the order, Durkin, the House GOP leader, issued a statement, welcoming Pritzker’s changes, and reminding Illinoisans the stay-at-home order is “a working document subject to change.

“While I am pleased with today’s actions, we must do more to restore economic vitality of the state while maintaining the health and safety of our citizens,” Durkin said.