Downstate judge rules Pritzker out of line with stay-at-home – but governor calls suit ‘dangerous,’ ‘insult to all Illinoisans’

The legislator who filed suit is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. He’s also a member of a small group of Downstate GOP legislators who once sponsored legislation to kick Chicago out of Illinois.

SHARE Downstate judge rules Pritzker out of line with stay-at-home – but governor calls suit ‘dangerous,’ ‘insult to all Illinoisans’
State Sen. Darren Bailey, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right.

Facebook; Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times file

A downstate judge on Monday agreed with a Republican legislator that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker lacks the legal authority to force him to stay home past 30 days during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a decision that only applies to the Southern Illinois lawmaker – state Rep. Darren Bailey – but the governor said it will endanger all Illinoisans and open the door for others to file suit.

Pritzker was made aware of Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney’s ruling Monday afternoon during his live COVID-19 briefing

“Rep. Darren Bailey’s decision to take to the courts to try and dismantle public health directives designed to keep people safe is an insult to all Illinoisans that have been lost during this COVID-19 crisis, and it’s a danger to millions of people who may get ill because of his recklessness,” Pritzker said. “At best, no one is better off because of this ruling, and at worst, people’s health and safety will suffer tremendously in Illinois.”

The governor said his executive orders have operated on precedents set by past disaster proclamations.

“Disasters don’t necessarily evaporate on a 30-day timeframe,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said his team will be fighting the decision and issuing “new public health directives so that we can continue to respond to this public crisis.”

Bailey filed both a suit and a motion for a temporary restraining order. The Monday ruling regarded the motion, which sought to halt enforcement of the stay-at-home order “until the Court renders a final verdict in this matter.”

McHaney’s ruling states Bailey “has shown he has a clearly ascertainable right in need of immediate protection, namely his liberty interest to be free from Pritzker’s executive order of quarantine in his home.”

The order, dated Monday, also says that Bailey “will suffer irreparable harm” if the 30-day restraining order isn’t granted.

But Pritzker argued it’s the rest of the state that could suffer harm.

“At this time I strongly encourage all municipal level leaders, as well as the people of Illinois, who are our strongest weapon against this virus to follow the advice of our scientists here in Illinois and across the nation, of IDPH and the CDC and continue to follow the guidelines of our stay-at-home order,” Pritzker said.

Bailey is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. He’s also a member of the Illinois House Republican’s so-called “Eastern Bloc,” a small group of legislators who once sponsored legislation to kick Chicago out of Illinois.

Trump won Clay County 79.8% to Hillary Clinton’s 16.2% in the 2016 presidential election, records show. Clay County has reported only two cases of COVID-19 through Monday.

Bailey on Monday said he was “elated” about the ruling.

“I saw it as a victory for the people, for the Constitution that I believe has been hijacked here in Illinois,” Bailey said.

Last week, the lawmaker told the Chicago Sun-Times he filed suit days after speaking with the governor by telephone.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Alex Brandon/AP file

“Our people down here are very frustrated with what’s been going on,” Bailey said on Thursday. “We’re not affected by the COVID crisis like the other parts of the state are.”

Bailey said Pritzker called him April 18 to discuss the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on southeastern Illinois. At the time of the conversation, Bailey had no plans to sue Pritzker, instead hoping that he could persuade Pritzker to ease his restrictions on more rural parts of the state.

“He did make some changes, and that was good, but he just, you know, he didn’t make enough,” Bailey said. “We’re not seeing the COVID numbers and crisis in any shape or form down here in the district.”

What that means for Bailey’s constituents in the southern Illinois town of Xenia — population 364 — is not immediately clear. The lawsuit filed last week specifically cites Bailey’s own rights being inhibited by the executive orders.

The filing, which sought a temporary restraining order against the stay-at-home order, said Pritzker’s decision limited “Bailey’s constitutionally protected freedoms in that it ordered him to stay at home, or at his place of residence, as well as limited his ability to travel within the state.”

While Bailey acknowledges in his suit that Pritzker could declare a 30-day stay-at-home order, he argues the governor does not have the legal authority to extend it past the 30 days under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office is representing Pritzker in the suit, and the governor said they will work to overturn the decision “in a swift fashion.”

“It’s frankly, it’s insulting. It’s dangerous and people’s safety and health has now been put at risk,” Pritzker said. “There may be people who contract coronavirus as a result of what Darren Bailey has done.”

The governor spent some of Monday’s briefings trying to unpack a rash of regionalist heat that’s occurred during the outbreak.

“I want to stop and take a moment now to address those who think that coronavirus is just a Chicago or a Cook County problem, and that downstate Illinois is immune or doesn’t need restrictions,” Pritzker said. “Folks, that’s just now how this virus operates. COVID-19 knows no county or regional boundaries.”

The governor said two of five counties with the highest infection rates are in southern Illinois: Randolph and Jasper counties. He said the two highest rates of death per capita are also in southern Illinois, in Jasper and Monroe counties.

“That means you’re more likely to die of COVID-19 if you live in either of those two counties than if you live in Chicago or in Cook County,” Pritzker said. “When these factors are taken into account the overall picture around COVID-19 in Illinois is quite different than many have assumed. ... It would be doing a massive disservice to our downstate residents if we govern only by raw numbers.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued a statement but didn’t say whether he agreed or disagreed with the decision, just noting that it was the first ruling regarding Pritzker’s authority to issue executive orders during the pandemic.

“I expect a quick appeal to the higher courts as this is a case of first impression and one that needs to be dealt with on an expedited basis,” the Western Springs Republican said. “We will be following the case closely as it progresses.’

Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan was more blunt.

“Like Governor Pritzker, I find Representative Bailey’s lawsuit to be extremely reckless, at a time we can least afford it,” the Southwest Side Democrat said in written statement. “It is my sincere hope that upon further review, this decision is reversed, and that our health care workers, first responders and loved ones are not unnecessarily subjected to added risk by such a short-sighted lawsuit.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also weighed in, calling the ruling “troubling and wrong.”

“One of the many problems with this ill-advised opinion is that it will destroy the collective progress we have made, giving Illinoisans the wrong impression that we have beaten the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Contributing: Neal Earley

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