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Pritzker blasts lawmaker for ‘cheap political stunt’ after judge rules on stay-at-home order ‘you could drive a Mack truck through’

The rebuke came the day after Bailey won a temporary halt on the stay-at-home order from Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney, who accused the governor of laughing off downstate Illinois’ concerns and imposing an executive order “that ain’t tailored to nothing.”

State Rep. Darren Bailey, left, at the state Capitol in Springfield earlier this year; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, at the Thompson Center in March.
State Rep. Darren Bailey, left, at the state Capitol in Springfield earlier this year; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, at the Thompson Center on March 30.
From Facebook; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times file.

Stinging from the burn of a judge’s ruling that freed a downstate Republican legislator from abiding by an executive stay-at-home order, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had angry words Tuesday for the lawmaker and the court, accusing them of setting “a dangerous precedent” that could send a rash of lawsuits his way.

The governor opened his daily briefing with a verbal attack on state Rep. Darren Bailey, accusing the southern Illinois lawmaker of being “reckless.”

“This was a cheap political stunt designed so that the representative can see his name in headlines, and unfortunately he has briefly been successful in that most callous of feats,” Pritzker said.

The rebuke came the day after Bailey won a temporary halt on the stay-at-home order from Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney, who accused the governor of laughing off downstate Illinois’ concerns during one of his daily briefings and imposing an executive order “that ain’t tailored to nothing.”

McHaney’s ruling on a temporary restraining order on Monday freed Bailey, a resident of Xenia, from being required to abide by the governor’s executive order. In his motion and a pending lawsuit, Bailey argued the governor overstayed his executive powers in extending the order past 30 days.

And Bailey won that debate — at least for now. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office filed a notice of appeal Monday, and a spokeswoman for his office said it expects to file a brief with the appellate court Wednesday.

“This ruling only applies to one person, because it was only ever about one person,” Pritzker said on Tuesday.

While Pritzker acknowledged the ruling is limited, he said “the risk it poses is significant.”

“By agreeing with the plaintiff in this initial ruling, the court set a dangerous precedent. Slowing down the spread of this virus is critical to saving lives by ensuring our healthcare system has the resources to treat patients who get sick, and we will not stop this virus if because of this ruling, any resident can petition to be exempted from aspects of the orders that rely on collective action to keep us all safe.”

Pritzker said his decisions have been ruled by the Emergency Management Act of the Public Health Act, which in the past has governed disaster proclamations. But he acknowledged a pandemic is in a different category, without a tidy end date.

“All we’re trying to do is end our disaster, our executive orders as soon as possible, but with the thought in mind that we need to keep people safe until we’re able to do that,” Pritzker said.

The governor called Bailey’s contention that the governor is trying to limit civil liberties or rights “reckless.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker at briefing in March.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

“That’s not the intention here,” Pritzker said. “The intention is to save peoples’ lives.”

The transcript of the hearing shows an at times frustrated judge — with his own opinion about the zero deaths in his hometown county, and about other things, such as Pritzker’s behavior at his daily briefings.

When Thomas Verticchio, a lawyer from Raoul’s office who is representing Pritzker in the suit, mentioned he heard a “snicker from the back” of the courtroom about “millions dying” of COVID-19, McHaney interjected.

“Counsel, I couldn’t agree with you more that it’s no joke and, while we’re on that subject since you brought it up, at a recent press conference, this governor was asked by a reporter what about easing restrictions in counties in Illinois that don’t have COVID or don’t need it, and his response was, wait for it, laughter,” McHaney said.

“I agree,” the judge said. “It ain’t funny. Go ahead.”

State Rep. Darren Bailey
State Rep. Darren Bailey
Facebook

In another instance, McHaney asked Verticchio a hypothetical situation in which a COVID-19 victim could have died in a car crash.

“With respect to these statistics you’re throwing out here and all of that, isn’t it true that if I die in a car wreck and I happen to test positive for COVID-19, my cause of death for purposes of what this governor is doing is COVID-19?” McHaney asked.

Verticchio said he didn’t know.

McHaney’s comment was in response to Verticchio saying there have been 42 cases of coronavirus in Jasper County, which neighbors Clay County, where the suit was filed. There have been no deaths in Clay County, a main point of contention for Bailey, despite the state reporting coronavirus cases in 96 of 102 counties.

“This is not a northern Illinois only problem because in southern counties, too, the issue exists,” Verticchio said. “Jasper County, 42 cases, less than 10,000 residents in the county. As a result, it suffers one of the highest per capita infection rates in Illinois. Its rates are doubling every three days.”

In another exchange, the judge said of the extended order “you could drive a Mack truck through this thing.”

Verticchio offered the orders are “broad given the situation” but said “they’re tailored to the situation.”

“Tailored to the situation? How in the world does me not being allowed to fish at Forbes Lake promote COVID-19 but panic buying at Walmart doesn’t? That ain’t tailored to nothing,” the judge said.

McHaney has been on the bench since 2010, when he ran for an open seat as a Democrat.

He invoked both the Illinois Constitution and the U.S. Constitution in his ruling: “The Illinois Constitution, numerous sections of it are being violated and the Bill of Rights is being shredded,” he said.

When Verticchio mentioned former Gov. Bruce Rauner declaring disaster proclamations for H1N1, McHaney asked if H1N1 was the “flu” and said “that governor certainly didn‘t shut down the state and destroy people‘s lives and property for H1N1.”

Verticchio noted H1N1 “is a different world.”