In one of the nation’s first successful legal challenges to mandatory quarantine directives, an Illinois state judge has thrown a wrench into Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of his stay-at-home order until at least May 30.
The judge’s temporary restraining order sets the stage in Illinois and perhaps nationally for a legal battle over public health experts’ far-reaching demands for public confinement against the rising fear about the drastic consequences of a nationwide economic shutdown.
In the case, Downstate Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney on Monday temporarily restrained Pritzker from enforcing the lockdown order against state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Downstate Republican from tiny rural Xenia. Bailey sued Pritzker for violating a provision of the state Emergency Management Act that allows such drastic closure actions for only 30 days. Because Pritzker originally issued his order on March 8, Pritzker’s authority expired on April 8, Bailey argued.
Bailey said he is “irreparably harmed each day he is subjected to” Pritzker’s executive order. In a statement, he said, “Enough is enough! I filed this lawsuit on behalf of myself and my constituents who are ready to go back to work and resume a normal life.” The judge cited in his order Bailey’s right, in “his liberty interest to be free from Pritzker’s executive order of quarantine in his own home’
The suit follows an argument made earlier made by Northbrook, Illinois attorney Michael Ciesla, who first pointed out on his law firm blog how Pritzker’s extension violated the 30-day provision and that even the governor is required to follow the law. Ciesla’s argumentation was widely ignored while Pritzker, Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and the Chicago media scorned or dismissed the suit as a cheap political stunt.
So when McHaney saw enough merit in the lawsuit to issue an injunction against the extension, Pritzker and Lightfoot claimed the action threatens everyone’s health. But they utterly failed to address the heart of the lawsuit—the plain language of the act that clearly lays out the 30-day restriction.
Technically the decision applies only to Bailey, but legal experts agree that the precedent gives weight to any Illinoisan who chooses to challenge the order. Just how seriously Pritzker and Lightfoot take the decision can be measured by the depth of their denunciations.
Pritzker warned that if his order were immediately lifted “people would die” and deaths would “shoot into the thousands by the end of May…. Our hospitals would be full, and very sick people would have nowhere to go.” Lightfoot called the decision “troubling and wrong” and despite it would continue her lockdown policies “to stay the course.”
The “course” is some of the country’s most stringent controls, such as Lightfoot’s closing of parks and other outdoor activities. Pritzker’s new order, effective May 1, would among other things require everyone in Illinois to wear a face mask outdoors, while including some modifications such as opening state parks.
Bailey says he was hoping to push Pritzker into creating a “more realistic plan” reflecting the fact that Illinois is such a diverse region, requiring different approaches for the mostly rural Downstate and metropolitan Chicago. Bailey’s hometown of Xenia has a population of 364. It’s located about 100 miles east of St. Louis in Clay County, which has recorded just two confirmed coronavirus cases and no deaths.
Chicago’s Cook County has 31,953 confirmed cases and 1,347 deaths, but the most feared outcome hasn’t materialized. The city’s sprawling exhibition hall, McCormick Place, had been fitted with 3,000 emergency beds to handle the expected overflow from jammed hospitals, but because of low usage, 2,000 beds are now being removed.
Tensions between the state’s two regions are an historic constant. Most recently those differences show up in a growing movement by Downstaters to separate Chicago from the rest of the state. In this, Illinois is but a microcosm of how heavily infected, urbanized New York and vast swathes of Middle America are vastly different and require tailored approaches in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It also reflects the argument—opposed by many liberals—that the fight is best carried on the local level.
Illinois’ regional differences will play out in an expected high-speed appeal of McHaney’s stay. The Downstate appeals court that would hear the case is dominated by Republicans, who, being elected, would not be expected to overturn McHaney’s decision. The Illinois Supreme Court, which could hear the appeal directly, is controlled by Democrats, and considered likely to ultimately back Pritzker.
Still, with growing sentiment that the various shutdown orders have gone too far, with increasing public protests against the restrictions, crushing unemployment, and the unease that epidemiologists and their models are running the country, what’s happening in Illinois could presage even more objections to unprecedented assaults on liberty.