The U.S. Department of Justice intervened Friday in an ongoing legal battle over the validity of Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home executive orders.
State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, claimed in a lawsuit that Prtizker’s stay-at-home order was unconstitutional. Pritzker is seeking to move that suit from Clay County, which Bailey represents, to federal court.
Bailey, from southern Illinois, had won an initial legal victory, though it was effectively symbolic because the ruling exempted only Bailey from the governor’s stay-at-home order. Bailey is now seeking to expand the impact of his lawsuit to affect everyone in the state.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Steven Weinhoeft, wrote a statement to the judge today asking that the matter remain in state court.
“However well-intentioned 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,” Weinhoeft said in a written statement.
This is the first time the Trump administration has filed a statement of interest in a state or local COVID-19-related legal fight that’s not related to religion. The Republican president and Illinois’ Democratic governor have sniped at each other repeatedly during the pandemic over the federal government’s response to the public health crisis.
Earlier this week, Bailey’s colleagues in the Illinois House of Representatives voted to kick him out of their chambers because he refused to comply with newly adopted rules and wear a face covering to protect those around him from the potential spread of COVID-19. The vote to remove Bailey for the day was bipartisan. Bailey returned the next day wearing a face covering.
Several other lawsuits brought by businesses — from churches to bars to tanning salons — have cropped up around the state seeking exemptions from the governor’s stay-at-home order. Pritzker has been successful in defending his authority in federal court in Chicago. As those have lingered, Pritzker has sought a change in state law to fine businesses that refuse to comply with his orders. The alternative, he said, is to pull or suspend a business’s professional license — like a liquor license for a bar — which Pritzker argues is more severe of a punishment
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.