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U.S. Justice Department steps into lawsuit against Pritzker’s stay-at-home order

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks at his daily coronavirus briefing on May 2, 2020 | Photo: Colin Boyle/My Block, My Hood, My City.

The U.S. Justice Department has intervened and is supporting an Illinois state representative who filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a statement of interest in the lawsuit filed by Illinois state representative Darren Bailey challenging certain actions of Pritzker in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” said Steven Weinhoeft, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

“Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful. And while the people of Illinois must be physically protected from the effects of this public health crisis, including by complying with CDC guidelines their constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties must be safeguarded as well,” Weinhoeft said.

Bailey filed his lawsuit in Illinois state court in April. According to the lawsuit, the governor’s actions are not authorized by state law as they extend beyond the 30-day time period imposed by the Illinois legislature.

The DOJ said that Pritzker has relied on authority under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to impose “sweeping limitations on nearly all aspects of life for citizens of Illinois, significantly impairing in some instances their ability to maintain their economic livelihoods.”

A hearing was scheduled to take place in state court on Friday but Pritzker removed the case to federal district court in East St. Louis.

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Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said that the governor owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state’s courts to hear the case.

“The United States Constitution and state constitutions established a system of divided and limited governmental power, and they did so to secure the blessings of liberty to all people in our country. Under our system, all public officials, including governors, must comply with the law, especially during times of crisis,” Dreiband said.

“The Department of Justice remains committed to defending the rule of law and the American people at all times, especially during this difficult time as we deal with COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

In the statement of interest filed on Friday, the DOJ said the dispute belongs in Illinois state court and that Bailey has raised substantial questions as to whether the governor’s current response to COVID-19 is lawful.

“Although the complaint does not raise any federal constitutional claims, it is up to the Illinois courts to rule on Plaintiff’s claims, which, because of the sweeping nature of the Orders, may affect millions of lives and raise significant constitutional concerns in other litigation,” the statement said.

“Even in the face of a pandemic, states must comply with their own laws in making these sensitive policy choices in a manner responsive to the people and, in doing so, both respect and serve the goals of our broader federal structure, including the guarantee of due process in the U.S. Constitution.”


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