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DOJ: Illinois coronavirus restrictions ‘appear to reach far beyond’ governor’s authority

By Jim Hagerty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although he means well, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders may exceed this authority to keep parts of the state closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That is the opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a statement of interest in federal court Friday in an attempt to become a party to the lawsuit filed by Illinois Rep. Darren Bailey, who is challenging the constitutionality of Pritzker’s executive order.

“However well-intended they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the Governor under Illinois law,” Steven D. Weinhoeft, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful.”

Bailey, a Republican from Xenia, filed a lawsuit last month and was initially granted a restraining order from Clay County Judge Michael McHaney, which exempted him, and only him, stay-at-home restrictions. Bailey then asked for the complaint to be vacated and filed a new complaint, that includes all Illinois residents. Bailey claims the stay-at-home edict has unconstitutionally closed businesses and churches.

The Illinois Attorney General filed a successful motion to have the case moved to federal court, arguing that because it’s a constitutional matter it should not be argued in Clay County.

The move also gives the state an opportunity to move the proceedings away from a partisan judge.

The Justice Department, however, argues the case should be moved back to state court.

“It is up to the Illinois courts to rule on Plaintiff’s claims, which, because of the sweeping nature of the Orders, may affect millions of lives and raise significant constitutional concerns in other litigation,” the department wrote in the statement of interest.

Pritzker said last week that even if Bailey is successful, he would again be the only one exempt from the order, as judges in similar lawsuits ruled that his executive orders have been within the scope of a governor’s authority during a pandemic. Those judges presided over complaints filed by two Chicago-area churches.

The governor also said Bailey’s lawsuit is reckless.

“Representative Bailey’s decision to go to the courts is an insult to all Illinoisans who have been lost during this COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “It’s a danger to millions of people who might get ill because of his recklessness.” Disasters don’t evaporate on a 30-day timeframe. Legislators took this into account when they wrote this law. We will fight this lawsuit to the furthest means possible.”

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