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Downstate judge blasts Pritzker’s stay-at-home-order: ‘Americans don’t get ruled’

Justice Department also sides with Darren Bailey, says he makes a strong case that Pritzker’s orders “exceed the authority granted to the governor by the Illinois legislature.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker waits to speak during his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Friday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker waits to speak during his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Friday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register

LOUISVILLE, Ill. — Point by point, the judge in downstate Clay County on Friday ticked off the many ways he found Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order had devolved into “insanity” and become “completely devoid of anything approaching common sense.”

Clay County Judge Michael McHaney complained that recently legalized pot shops had been deemed essential over generations-old family businesses. People had been led to believe they could avoid COVID-19 at Walmart but not at church.

And to top it off, McHaney complained that Pritzker’s family members had traveled between Illinois and Florida and Wisconsin during the coronavirus pandemic, contrary to Pritzker’s own stay-at-home order. The judge said, “when laws do not apply to those who make them, people are not being governed, they are being ruled.”

“Americans don’t get ruled,” McHaney said.

Despite that fiery speech given in a courtroom 230 miles south of Chicago — pleasing many in the gallery — McHaney declined to undo Pritzker’s stay-at-home order statewide. He instead ruled narrowly, granting a temporary restraining order only to an individual Clay City business and its owner.

A short time later, the U.S. Department of Justice also took Pritzker to task, filing a statement in southern Illinois’ federal court that said state Rep. Darren Bailey had put forth a strong case in a separate lawsuit that Pritzker’s “orders exceed the authority granted to the governor by the Illinois legislature.”

Read the full transcript of the judge’s ruling:

Despite the browbeating by McHaney, and the surprise filing by the Justice Department, Pritzker’s stay-at-home order remains intact with just a week to go until it expires.

At his daily news briefing, Pritzker said Friday, “it’s clear that the judge in Clay County has his own political agenda.”

A lawyer for the Illinois attorney general’s office said in court it would appeal McHaney’s decision.

Tom DeVore, the attorney who filed the lawsuit McHaney considered Friday, said he will deliver more information to McHaney in hopes of persuading the judge to broaden his ruling.

But Pritzker’s order has also survived legal skirmishes in other courts, including a series of religious challenges in federal court. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found last weekend that the stay-at-home order “does not discriminate against religious activities.” Another church made a bid Wednesday in federal court in Urbana for a temporary restraining order to allow outdoor religious services.

A state court judge in Sangamon County on Tuesday also denied a request for a temporary restraining order from a running store. The judge disagreed with the argument that Pritzker’s emergency powers during a disaster are limited to 30 days. In doing so, she followed the lead of a federal judge who also recently dismissed that argument. Both ruled contrary to the statement issued Friday by the Justice Department.

The temporary restraining order granted by McHaney on Friday went to James Mainer and his business, HCL Deluxe Tan LLC, in Clay City. The lawsuit identified Mainer as a U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

McHaney had previously given a temporary restraining order to Bailey, the Republican lawmaker, though his order also applied only to Bailey. It has since been lifted, at Bailey’s request.

Bailey is also represented by DeVore, and he pushed for a final ruling Friday from McHaney. He was thwarted in that attempt by Pritzker, who filed paperwork to have that lawsuit moved to federal court in East St. Louis. Bailey has asked the federal court to send the case back to McHaney. The Justice Department took Bailey’s side when it filed its statement Friday.

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the governor under Illinois law,” Steven Weinhoeft, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a news release.