Illinois’ Ethically Challenged Court

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is gloating after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up our case, challenging the impartiality of the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling on our gun ban lawsuit. Our case is one more example of a politicized justice system.

In the lower courts, we initially argued that the gun ban law violates the Illinois Constitution’s equal protection clause by allowing certain classes of people to continue to possess banned guns while criminalizing possession by others. We won at the trial court. Pritzker appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, where, to assure a fair hearing, we challenged the independence of two Illinois supreme court justices, Rochford and O’Brien, to hear the case, requesting that they recuse themselves. They refused to do so.

Both Justices Rochford and O’Brien, just months prior to hearing our case, won the election with the help of one million dollars each from Gov. Pritzker, the lead defendant in our case, and more than a half million from other defendants. In addition, a politically connected Democrat-run independent expenditure political action committee spent over seven million dollars on behalf of Rochford and O’Brien for the sole purpose of electing them. That PAC, All for Justice, was run by Luke Casson who also did official work for State Senate President Don Harmon, also a defendant in our case. All for Justice was fueled by every Democrat constituency that feeds off government—unions, trial lawyers, pro-abortion groups, and those opposed to the individual right to own a gun. Senator Harmon also gave $500,000 to the PAC, and a couple of his members gave $50,000.

Created only two and a half months ahead of the election, the All for Justice PAC spent $7.3 million on behalf of Rochford and O’Brien. These amounts were significant, accounting for 42% and 53%, respectively, of all campaign expenditures made in their elections.

Unsurprisingly, Casson didn’t play by the rules. After the election, it was discovered that he violated campaign finance laws, for which his All for Justice PAC received one of the largest fines ever given by the Illinois State Board of Elections. To avoid paying the fine, Casson closed the PAC and moved the remaining money, almost $150,000, to another campaign account he is connected to (same business address.)

The influence of money in politics has always been most vociferously shouted about by the Democratic Party. But in Illinois, the Democrats routinely spend millions to elect state representatives. Already this year, Harmon has funneled nearly a million dollars to a state senator to fend off a primary challenge. Politics is big business in Illinois, but political spending in a judicial race has serious implications when the justices hear and rule on cases involving people who financed their campaigns.

After losing at the Illinois Supreme Court, we appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, believing we had a strong Caperton challenge. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges must recuse themselves when the facts indicate a probability of bias. That decision, known as the Caperton decision, was specifically about campaign spending in a judicial race. If the spending is large enough to create a perception of bias, even if actual bias was not observed, judges must recuse themselves.

Our request at the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Caperton challenge of the two Illinois justices was denied. We understand that, for various reasons, worthy cases do not get heard. Regardless, it is an obvious conflict of interest to everyone, but the ethically challenged Illinois justices, to rule on a case of great ideological importance to the defendant, Gov. Pritzker, after he and his cronies spent millions to get them elected.

As I mentioned in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, ‘we did not get a fair hearing in the Illinois Supreme Court, so now we’re going to have to look at other options. I think anyone who finds themselves at the Illinois Supreme Court must question their ability to get a fair hearing.”

The gun ban law is just one of many in the last two years where one-party control of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches has emboldened Democrats to make laws that are not constitutionally sound. In fact, in the debate on the bill in the Illinois Senate, the lead sponsor was told that the bill is likely unconstitutional and will invite lawsuits. The Democratic chief sponsor of the bill, Harmon, replied, “We’ll see you in court.”

These laws are a different type of lawlessness and far more harmful than street crime. When state legislatures and local officials can strip people of their rights and force them to go through expensive and lengthy lawsuits to get those rights back, then freedom is at risk for everyone.

Fortunately, there are other cases still working their way through the court system challenging the gun ban law, and I am confident that the law will not stand. No matter the roadblocks, I’ll never stop fighting for our Second Amendment rights and for a fair and unbiased justice system.

State Representative Dan Caulkins represents the 88th Illinois House District.

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Photo: CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 20: Illinois Democratic candidate for Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks during his primary election night victory on March 20, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Pritzker won the democratic primary against challengers Chris Kennedy and Daniel Bliss in the governor's race. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)