Political divisions over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide stay-at-home restrictions were on full display Monday, as a judge issued a temporary injunction allowing a Republican legislator to disregard the order, a decision Pritzker quickly denounced while forcefully defending his actions to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The ruling by Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney came in a lawsuit filed by Rep. Darren Bailey that challenged Pritzker’s authority to extend his stay-at-home order beyond the initial 30 days under the state’s Emergency Management Act.
While the ruling applied only to Bailey, it could open the door for other Illinois residents to seek similar relief from the stay-at-home order, with McHaney’s injunction as a justification.
In seeking the injunction, Bailey said he is “irreparably harmed each day he is subjected to” Pritzker’s executive order, and asked the judge to enjoin the governor or anyone under his authority from enforcing it against him.
McHaney’s ruling said Pritzker was prohibited “from in any way enforcing the March 20 executive order against Darren Bailey forcing him to isolate and quarantine in his home,” or any subsequent orders that would do the same.
At his daily coronavirus news briefing, Pritzker vigorously attacked Bailey, accusing him of acting for political reasons and ignoring the medical threat of the virus. Pritzker promised a quick appeal of the judge’s ruling and said he would carry the fight “to the furthest extent possible.”
“People are in danger as a result of this ruling, of the judge’s ruling of the suit that was brought by Darren Bailey,” Pritzker said.
“We certainly are going to act in a swift fashion to try to have this ruling overturned, certainly put a stay in place,” the governor said. “I mean it’s, frankly, it’s insulting, it’s dangerous, and people’s safety and health has now been put at risk. There may be people who contract coronavirus as a result of what Darren Bailey has done now.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also slammed the judge’s ruling, which she called “troubling,” and said it could give “the wrong impression that we have beaten the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Nothing about today’s ruling will change the city’s intention to continue imposing the stay at home restrictions,” she said in a statement.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office is “reviewing the order and considering our options for appeal in consultation with the governor’s office,” spokeswoman Annie Thompson said.
Illinois has been under a statewide stay-at-home order since March 21, placing broad restrictions on residents and businesses the order deems “nonessential,” aimed at curbing the spread of highly contagious COVID-19. Illinois was the second state to announce such a far-reaching statewide action, though the majority of states have since followed suit and instituted some statewide restrictions.
Pritzker announced last week he would extend the stay-at-home order through May 30, with some modifications due to take effect Friday.
Pritzker on Monday encouraged municipal leaders and residents across the state “to follow the advice of our scientists here in Illinois and across the nation,” and continue obeying the directives set out in the stay-at-home order.
“History will remember those who put politics aside to come together to keep people safe. It will also remember those who, so blindly devoted to ideology and the pursuit of personal celebrity, that they made an enemy of science, and of reason,” Pritzker said Monday.
In an interview later Monday afternoon, Bailey said he believes the judge’s ruling should apply to everyone in the state and encouraged others to take legal action similar to his own.
“If people want to, if anyone wants to file any kind of similar suit in their home county or in their circuit, they can certainly do that,” Bailey said. “What I’m doing is challenging the constitutionality of the governor, of what he’s been doing.”
Bailey said his office has been flooded with calls from people in his downstate district who are “overwhelmed, scared to death, not of the COVID-19 virus, but of their livelihoods.”
“Still today, we’re getting calls of people that cannot get through to unemployment, and that’s what’s taking a toll in some of these more rural districts,” Bailey said. “That’s what the governor needs to be focused on.”
The flare-up over the stay-at-home order came as state officials announced 1,980 new known cases of COVID-19 Monday, including 50 additional deaths. The statewide total of known cases now stands at 45,883 in 96 counties, and the statewide death toll is 1,983.
Bailey’s lawsuit shows how government’s regulatory response to the coronavirus has inflamed already heightened regional tensions between rural areas and the Chicago area.
Pritzker contended Bailey was attempting to use the coronavirus restrictions to play to his rural constituency.
“I’m hoping that this doesn’t evolve into the politics that I think often people at the federal level like to make it — and obviously you can see there are legislators who don’t understand this, who think everything is fodder for the political world,” the Democratic governor said in a pointed reference to Bailey’s lawsuit.
The stay-at-home order has drawn protests at the statehouse in Springfield the past two weekends, with protesters gathering to urge for the state to reopen and chanting “Recall Pritzker.” Those have followed a wave of protests at state capitols across the nation protesting similar actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that have had brutal effects on state economies and have left many out of work.
Pritzker on Monday appealed to people who think the new coronavirus “is just a Chicago or a Cook County problem, and that downstate Illinois is immune or doesn’t need restrictions.” The illness “has played a role in the deaths of Illinoisans” in 42 of the state’s 102 counties, Pritzker said, singling out Jasper and Monroe counties for having the highest per capita death rates.
“It’s true that there are a much larger number of cases and deaths in the metropolitan area around Chicago, but it’s also home to nearly 2 of every 3 Illinoisans, and it’s home to much of the overall hospital capacity that’s needed if there’s another surge of the virus,” Pritzker said.
Legislative leaders on Monday urged residents to continue following public health guidance.
“This virus isn’t paying attention to judicial orders,” Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement. “Please, be patient, recognize the dangers and keep following the advice of our medical professionals and public health experts.”
In a statement Monday, Senate Republican leader Bill Brady said residents should “continue to follow the recommended public health precautions to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In the meantime, Senate Republicans remain ready to return to Springfield in order to take up those critical issues that need to be addressed in a timely manner.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan called the lawsuit “extremely reckless, at a time we can least afford it.”
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But in a further sign of partisan divisions over the state’s COVID-19 response, a group of Downstate Republican lawmakers held a videoconference Monday morning to criticize the Pritzker administration for not answering their requests for information about prisoners who’ve been released from the Illinois Department of Corrections over coronavirus concerns.
“We want to know the decision-making process for releasing people,” said state Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from Morrisonville in central Illinois. “Our concern (is) that the governor and IDOC are using this pandemic as a way to push their political agenda of releasing inmates rather than actually looking out for the public safety and health.”
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the department, “after an individualized review and with an emphasis on maintaining public safety, is utilizing its statutory authority to place offenders on electronic detention or award earned discretionary sentencing credit.” The names of those who’ve been released are listed on the department’s website, she said.