Since March 2020, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has used executive orders and other loose policy initiatives to place limits on public gatherings in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of Illinoisans have been required to stay at home and then eventually limit their gatherings to 10 people.
The governor has been routinely critical of mass gatherings and protests against his stay-at-home orders, saying the gatherings threatened progress Illinois was making against the disease. At one point, the governor even made defying his order on gathering limitations a criminal misdemeanor — however this was quickly reversed due to push back from law enforcement and the public.
In May and June 2020, the governor began allowing particular groups that he favors to gather in larger numbers. He allowed some churches to begin holding services. The governor personally participated in rallies with crowds numbering in the thousands as well as other gatherings in which people were not socially distanced. Pritzker defended the large gatherings, telling the Chicago Tribune: “It’s important to stand up for people’s First Amendment rights … It’s important to have the governor stand with them on issues that are important.”
The Illinois Republican Party, Schaumburg Township Republican Organization, Northwest Side GOP Club and Will County Republican Central Committee filed a federal lawsuit on June 15, 2020, to challenge Gov. Pritzker’s unequal application of his stay-at-home orders. While Pritzker grants carve-outs to organizations he likes, other groups are limited to gatherings of 10 people. For fear of criminal penalty, the Illinois Republican Party held a statewide convention virtually on June 12-13 — over videoconference — instead of in person.
This lawsuit highlights the selectivity and arbitrary nature of Pritzker’s Executive Order regarding group gatherings. Some groups can exercise their First Amendment rights, while others face restrictions and the threat of criminal penalties for violating the governor’s order. It also calls into question his legal authority to issue a second, third and fourth disaster declaration after his initial declaration in March.