(Illinois Policy Institute)—A law limiting where people may file legal complaints for state constitutional violations is facing its own lawsuit – with plaintiffs claiming the law infringes on their rights by forcing their claims to be heard by judges they aren’t even allowed to elect.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 29 by three St. Clair County residents represented by the Liberty Justice Center. They allege the new law limiting where they may challenge the constitutionality of state laws itself violates the Illinois Constitution by damaging their voting rights and stripping courts of jurisdiction over certain subjects.
Before this year, if you believed the state of Illinois or one of its officers or employees had violated your rights under the state constitution, you could file a lawsuit at your county courthouse. But in June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 3062 into law. It limits the venue for any state constitutional claim to only Cook or Sangamon counties, just two of Illinois’ 102 counties. That means a resident of Metropolis, Illinois, whose rights are violated would be forced to file a claim in a court over 200 miles away. The law conveniently made a carveout for disputes between public sector unions and the state arising out of a collective bargaining agreement.
This law was spurred by recent litigation that often proved a headache for policymakers. Lawsuits based on COVID-19 restrictions, the assault weapons ban and the abolition of cash bail statewide worked their way through the court system, producing temporary injunctions and restraining orders that threw roadblocks in the path of controversial policies. Supporters of the bill accused litigants of venue shopping for sympathetic judges, but opponents claimed the state was trying to do the same thing through the new law. HB 3062 was seen as a way to get around the inconvenient judicial process.
Now the state will have to fight it out in court if the lawsuit filed in St. Clair County proceeds. Article VI, Section 9 of the Illinois Constitution gives circuit courts “original jurisdiction over all justiciable matters,” save for a few specific cases in which the Illinois Supreme Court retains original and exclusive jurisdiction. Plaintiffs argue HB 3062 limits the subject matter jurisdiction of all circuit courts outside Cook and Sangamon counties in violation of this section.
“The Illinois General Assembly is not allowed to cherry-pick the courts that will hear constitutional challenges to the laws it passes and other state rules and orders,” said Jeffrey Schwab, senior counsel for the Liberty Justice Center.
Plaintiffs also allege HB 3062 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution. In Illinois, the constitution gives voters the right to elect the judges who hear the cases in their districts. By forcing residents to file lawsuits far outside of their own judicial districts, the state is denying some citizens their right to elect the judges who will hear their cases, while favoring voters in other districts who will elect the judges where all state constitution-based lawsuits must be filed. In doing so, the law impermissibly diminishes all residents’ fundamental right to vote, unless they live in Cook or Sangamon counties.
The St. Clair County Circuit Court will have the first word in determining if the challenge, itself a constitutional claim filed outside of Cook or Sangamon counties, may proceed in contradiction of HB 3062, or if the plaintiffs must file in compliance with the new law.