Illinois Supreme Court consolidates lawsuits on Pritzker orders

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a news conference at the University of Chicago's Harper Center on July 23, 2020. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to take on a downstate legal battle over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus-related orders on Tuesday, moving the case to Sangamon County and consolidating it with a similar challenge.

The decision comes as the first-term Democrat was expected in a Clay County courtroom this week after a judge rule d Pritzker exceeded his authority in issuing orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Pritzker’s orders have faced several legal challenges, which courts have mostly upheld. But in Clay County, Republican Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia sued over the restrictions, claiming Pritzker exceeded his authority under state statutes. Judge Michael McHaney ruled in his favor last month.

Pritzker had dismissed the ruling as “ridiculous,” noting others in his favor.

However, Bailey’s attorney Tom DeVore accused Pritzker of breaching the ruling. Haney set a Friday hearing for Pritzker to explain.

On Monday, the Illinois attorney general’s office requested the state Supreme Court intervene on both the hearing and “the underlying legal question raised by the case.”

“From the outset, the circuit court has departed from ordinary procedures and shown an open hostility to the governor, his emergency actions, and the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic itself,” the motion said.

On Tuesday, the court issued a stay, pausing the Clay County proceedings, including Friday’s hearing. Later in the day it denied the request to take up the case. In the Sangamon County lawsuit, also filed by DeVore, business owners challenged an extension of a stay-at-home order.

“There is no legal basis for the governor to be held in contempt for his efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. “We are pleased the Supreme Court granted our request to stay that issue so that it does not continue to serve as an unnecessary distraction from the important matter at hand.”

DeVore didn’t immediately return a message.

Also Tuesday, a state panel approved Pritzker’s emergency rules allowing public health officials to issue fines to businesses that don’t comply with a statewide mask mandate.

Public health officials on Tuesday announced 1,549 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 new deaths. Overall, there have been nearly 200,000 confirmed cases in Illinois and 7,657 deaths since the start of the pandemic.