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Illinois high court asked to review law limiting venue in constitutional challenges

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

The Illinois Supreme Court is being asked to decide on the constitutionality of a new state law that says constitutional challenges to state laws and actions can only be filed in Cook or Sangamon counties.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office on Monday filed an appeal directly to the Supreme Court after a Madison County judge last week ruled that the law violated the due process rights of one plaintiff in a lawsuit in that jurisdiction.

Last year, the General Assembly passed House Bill 3062 with only Democratic support, and Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law June 6. It came in response to the large number of constitutional challenges that were filed in multiple jurisdictions challenging Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation orders, as well as a law ending cash bail in Illinois and the state’s 2021 assault weapons ban.

Read more: Lawmakers OK bill to limit constitutional lawsuits to Cook, Sangamon County

During debate on the bill last year, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, accused plaintiffs in those cases of “forum shopping” in order to have their cases heard by judges friendly to their cause. The attorney general’s office complained that its resources were being stretched thin by having to defend those cases in courthouses scattered throughout the state.

In a March 4 ruling, however, Madison County Circuit Judge Ronald J. Foster said the new law imposed even more of a burden on at least one plaintiff in his court, and he struck it down as unconstitutional.

The case at issue there involved a constitutional challenge to another recent gun law passed by the General Assembly, the Firearm Industry Responsibility Act, which subjects gun dealers and manufacturers to civil penalties for violations of the state’s consumer protection laws.

Read more: Firearms industry could face lawsuits for deceptive marketing under new law

Just days after that law took effect, Piasa Armory LLC, a gun store in Alton, filed suit in Madison County challenging its constitutionality. The state then sought to move the case to either Sangamon or Cook County, but the gun store objected and argued that the law limiting where such cases could be filed should be overturned.

In his decision, Foster wrote the law was unconstitutional as it applied to Piasa Armory because moving the case to either Sangamon or Cook County would severely inconvenience the plaintiff. And even if the court proceedings were conducted remotely via Zoom or any other videoconferencing platform, he said, they could just as easily be conducted in Madison County as Sangamon or Cook County.

As of Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court had not yet issued a schedule for hearing the case.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations 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.