CHICAGO — The U.S. Justice Department intervened Friday in a lawsuit challenging Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The federal government filed a statement of interest in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis supporting the lawsuit filed by Republican state Rep. Darren Bailey challenging some of Pritzker’s actions in response to the pandemic. The department is also challenging the moving of Bailey’s lawsuit to federal court and asserts Pritzker is acting in violation of Illinois law.
“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 written statement. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful.”
Bailey last month filed the lawsuit challenging Pritzker’s order, which included shutting down most businesses and churches. Clay County Judge Michael McHaney ruled Bailey was not bound by the order.
McHaney on Friday again ruled against Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in a separate case but didn’t issue a statewide temporary restraining order.
Bailey is now attempting to broaden that ruling to make the order invalid for all state residents. He contends the stay-at-home order is too restrictive and is unnecessarily jeopardizing people’s livelihoods.
Bailey’s attorney, Thomas G. DeVore, did not immediately return calls for comment. However, he has accused Pritzker of “forum shopping” by sending Bailey’s case to federal court just hours before the governor was due to file a brief in Clay County Circuit Court.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office stated Thursday in its court filing that it was moving the case from state court because it involves U.S. constitutional rights of free religion and due process. Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the office, said Friday that Raoul hand no comment on the Justice Department’s action.
Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement that Pritzker owes it to Illinois residents to allow the state courts to determine if the state’s laws allow orders he issued in response to the pandemic.
“The United States Constitution and state constitutions established a system of divided and limited governmental power, and they did so to secure the blessings of liberty to all people in our country,” Dreiband said.
McHaney’s ruling Friday applied to a lawsuit filed by James Mainer, owner of HCL Deluxe Tan shop. Mainer sought to have Pritzker’s executive order vacated, but McHaney’s ruling only exempted Mainer and his business from the stay-at-home order until June 5, when the judge will hold a hearing on a permanent injunction.
In a Friday news conference before the ruling, Pritzker said it was clear McHaney “has his own political agenda.”
Herbert G. McCann, The Associated Press