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New law limits venue for constitutional lawsuits to Sangamon, Cook counties

The Sangamon County complex is pictured in Springfield.
Capitol News Illinois
The Sangamon County complex is pictured in Springfield.

Pritzker signs bill backed by attorney general and passed with only Democratic support

People who file lawsuits in state courts challenging the constitutionality of a state law, administrative rule or executive order will now have to file those cases in either Sangamon or Cook counties.

Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday signed House Bill 3062, which applies only to cases brought against the state or any of its officers, employees or agents in which the plaintiff seeks to have a law, rule or action declared unconstitutional or they seek an injunction on the grounds of constitutionality. However, it also specifically exempts cases arising out of collective bargaining disputes.

It cleared the General Assembly with only Democratic support.

The bill came in response to a flurry of lawsuits filed in recent years in courthouses throughout the state challenging such things as Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation orders, a law that would end cash bail, and, most recently, the state’s ban on assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said those cases typically end up being consolidated, and most of them eventually end up before the Illinois Supreme Court, which sits in Springfield and Chicago.

But he also accused plaintiffs’ attorneys in recent cases of selectively choosing where they file their cases in order to improve their chances of finding judges who may be more sympathetic to their cause, a practice Harmon described as “forum shopping.”

“And what we have seen recently is similar cases being filed in scores of counties, causing the attorney general to have to defend the same action in multiple counties with forum shopping,” he said during floor debate on the bill. “This is a simple effort to make sure that all important, critical constitutional questions end up in the right venue.”

But Senate Republican Leader John Curran, of Downers Grove, accused Democrats of engaging in their own brand of venue shopping by restricting constitutional challenges to courts in Springfield and Chicago.

“Courts exist to serve the people, which is why they are located where people live,” he said in a statement after Pritzker announced the bill signing. “This legislation is clearly an attempt by the governor and the attorney general to send constitutional challenges to courts that they believe will be more favorable to the administration.”

Harmon argued that while Springfield is the state capital, Chicago is also a kind of second seat of state government.

“The statutes are actually replete with jurisdictional references to Cook and Sangamon as the two primary jurisdictions,” he said. “I think it's the same reason that I have an office in Springfield and an office in Chicago; Leader Curran has an office in Springfield and an office in Chicago; the governor, the attorney general, all the constitutional officers have an office in Springfield and an office in Chicago. It is essentially an alternative place of government.”

Republicans, however, argued that it would inconvenience people who may be aggrieved by a state law or action but don’t live anywhere near Springfield or Chicago.

In the House, for example, state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, from the town of Metropolis on the banks of the Ohio River, noted that he lives closer to the state capital of Tennessee than he does to Springfield, and he is almost as close to Atlanta, Georgia, as he is to Chicago.

“So to say if this body passes an unconstitutional law, in order for me or another person in my community to contest that law, I've got to travel a great distance and bear that expense that comes with that, is not fair to the individuals in these communities,” he said during floor debate in the House.

The language of HB 3062 originated in the Senate and was inserted as a set of amendments into a House bill that originally dealt with landlord-tenant relations. It passed the Senate on May 19 by a vote of 37-16. The House concurred with the amendments 69-35.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019. Email: phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com