Cook County Record

‘Anti-Democracy’ Law Blocked: GOP Candidates Win Court Order Stopping Dems from Using New Law to Keep Them off Ballot

May 22, 2024

(Cook County Record)—A group of Republican candidates have secured a court order blocking the state from enforcing a new law they say unconstitutionally changed the state’s election rules in the middle of the 2024 election cycle, with the intent of keeping Republican candidates from challenging Democratic lawmakers in November.

On May 22, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Gail Noll granted a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit brought by four Chicago area state legislative candidates, challenging the law known as Senate Bill 2412.


The plaintiffs and other critics have called SB2412 “anti-democracy” claiming it wrongly allows the state’s powerful Democratic Party to block Republican challengers from being placed on the ballot for the upcoming fall 2024 elections and prevents voters from having a real choice.

“We applaud the Court’s decision to uphold the rule of law and support voting rights for all people in Illinois,” said Jeffrey Schwab, attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, of Chicago, who represented the plaintiffs. “We look forward to continuing to defend these fundamental rights in court and will be pressing forward to ensure the preliminary injunction becomes permanent.”

The lawsuit was filed May 11 in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield by prospective Republican state legislative candidates Leslie Collazo, Daniel Behr, James Kirchner and Carl Kunz.

According to the complaint, Collazo, of Chicago, was designated by the Republican Party on April 8 to run in the 8th Representative District against Democratic incumbent state Rep. LaShawn Ford.

Behr, of north suburban Northbrook, was designated by the GOP to run in the 57th Representative District on March 19 against Democratic incumber state Rep. Tracy Katz Muhl, who was never elected but was selected by Democratic party leaders four months ago to replace former State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, who resigned his seat.

Kirchner, of Chicago, was designated to run in the 13th Legislative (State Senate) District on April 18 against Democratic incumbent State Sen. Robert Peters.

And Kunz, of southwest suburban Hickory Hills, was designated to run in the 31st Representative District on April 7 against Democratic incumber State Rep. Mary Flowers.

However, under SB2412, all of the candidates could be barred from the ballot.

The Democratic supermajority in the Illinois General Assembly enacted the legislation in less than 48 hours in early May. The law was then signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, also a Democrat, on May 3. It took effect immediately.

The law changed election rules to block political parties from slating candidates to run for office after the primary election, unless they had first run in their party’s primary election.

Under the previous rules, parties who had no official nominees for a particular elected office after the spring primary vote had 75 days after the primary election to “slate” candidates to run as the official party nominee in such races. This year, that deadline was to be June 3.

However, six weeks after the March 19 primary, and with just about four weeks until the June 3 deadline, Democrats rushed through SB2412, upending the candidate nomination process.

While the changes would apply to all political parties, it is particularly harmful to Republicans, as the party intended to rely on that process to ensure it had candidates on the ballot to run against Democratic incumbents in the November general election.

With the changes, Democrats can all but ensure many of their incumbents will face no competition this fall.

For his part, Pritzker praised the legislation as “ethics reform,” saying it does away with secret backroom deals between potential candidates and party leaders.

Republicans, however, said the law allows Democrats to steal elections right before the public’s eyes, before a single vote is cast.

The lawsuit from the four Republican candidates was the first legal challenge mounted to the new law.

In the lawsuit, the Republican candidates pointed to prior court decisions they say indicate SB2412 amounts to unconstitutional changes to election rules. Those decisions from state appellate courts as far back as 1977 indicate courts believe that the right to vote is “implicated” by laws that restrict candidate’s ability to run for office, and “legislation that affects any stage of the election process implicates the right to vote.”

Further, they said the Illinois Supreme Court has recognized the right to vote as a “fundamental constitutional right” in the state, “essential to our system of government.”

Under those judicial tests, the plaintiffs say the changes in SB2412 cannot stand under the constitution, as the law “unconstitutionally restricts Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights … by negating their efforts to gain access to the ballot” under the rules that existed at the time they began their efforts to become candidates for the seats in the state legislature.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office and attorneys representing Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch argued against the plaintiffs’ attempt to block the law and restore the previous rules, at least for the 2024 election.

Last week, Judge Noll refused to grant the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order against the state. The judge did not issue a written decision in that ruling.

However, at the conclusion of a hearing Thursday, Judge Noll decided to grant a preliminary injunction, indicating she believed the plaintiffs had established their challenge was likely to succeed.

The judge issued a written order in the case on May 23.

In that order, Judge Noll said she believes lawmakers’ decision to essentially rewrite the election rules for this year in the midst of the 2024 candidate nomination and petition process likely “places a severe restriction on the fundamental right to vote.”

The judge ruled the case merits a so-called “strict scrutiny” standard of review, under which the plaintiffs need only show the state’s actions may have violated a fundamental right. But the judge said even under a more lenient review standard sought for the case by the state, the Republican challengers still could win the case.

Under that standard, the plaintiffs would need to show the law was enacted arbitrarily or with the intent to discriminate.

And the judge said she believed the state’s actions would unfairly block plaintiffs from “running as party candidates.” Democrats had asserted the plaintiffs could still run as independent candidates. But the requirements are much stiffer for independent candidates than for official party nominees. Further, the slated Republican candidates would have a compressed timeframe in which to work, given the Democrats’ decision to enact the law weeks after the March primary election.

“… The timing of the amendment, which occurred after the March primary election, precludes Plaintiffs from having their names placed on the November ballot under any of the statutorily available routes to ballot access,” Noll wrote.

The preliminary injunction order bars Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the Illinois State Board of Elections from rejecting the four candidates’ petitions.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General declined comment. Raoul’s office also did not respond to a question concerning whether the state defendants would appeal the ruling.