Pritzker says it’s ‘ridiculous’ to expect justices to recuse themselves after $2M donations | Illinois


(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that despite his million-dollar donations to two Illinois Supreme Court justices last year, they are independent and should not have to recuse themselves from two high-profile cases before them in which the governor is a defendant.

Pritzker donated a total of $2 million from two separate accounts to then-Illinois Supreme Court candidates Mary O’Brien and Elizabeth Rochford, $1 million each. Those candidates are now justices on the bench of seven who will hear separate challenges to the state’s no-cash bail provision (next week) and to the state’s gun ban and registry (in May). Pritzker signed both the SAFE-T Act and the gun ban into law and is a defendant in the lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.

Responding to a question about the donations, Pritzker said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that anyone who received money from him should have to recuse themselves.

“If you’re suggesting that the fact that I gave money to let’s say the Democratic Party or the committees that supported candidates means that everybody who’s received any money has to recuse themselves from anything to do with the state of Illinois, that’s ridiculous,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Springfield. “And I’ve certainly never asked anybody to vote a certain way or decide on a case a certain way. I would never do that. I never have and I never will.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers a question Wednesday in Springfield about his campaign donations to Illinois Supreme Court candidates 

Independent observers say judges should recuse themselves where there is any hint of conflict of interest.Chris Forsyth with the nonpartisan Judicial Integrity Project in Colorado told The Center Square that trust in the judicial system is crucial in American society.

“If we don’t have confidence in the opinions the judicial branch issues then our judicial branch is failing,” Forsyth told The Center Square.

Pritzker also said Wednesday that he didn’t violate campaign finance laws he signed last year in making the donations. The 2022 law capped contribution limits in such campaigns to $500,000 from “any single person.” Pritzker’s $2 million in donations $1 million each – came from two separate counts, $500,000 to each from both Pritzker’s political campaign and his revocable trust.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, also was a top donor to the justices with O’Brien receiving $350,000 and Rochford receiving $150,000 from The People for Emanuel Chris Welch fund. Welch is another top defendant in the gun-ban challenge and the challenge against Illinois’ no-cash bail law that’s currently on hold pending appeal.

Also on Wednesday, opponents of Illinois’ gun ban said they are seeking clarity on whether Illinois State Police are enforcing the law that was deemed unconstitutional.

Friday, a Macon County judge issued a final judgment that Illinois’ gun ban is unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protections because it exempts workers in the law enforcement and security industries. State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, who brought the case, said that judgment makes the law null and void statewide pending an appeal.

“And in order to make a direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court under this rule … the attorney general has to agree that the law has been invalidated and it negates the very existence of the law and in all applications,” Caulkins said during a news conference at the capitol in Springfield

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Harrisburg, said state police should clarify if they are enforcing the law pending an appeal.

“If they are actively enforcing this law, why are they enforcing a law that courts have deemed unconstitutional,” Windhorst said.

State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, Illinois State Rifle Assoication’s Ed Sullivan and state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Harrisburg, Wednesday in Springfield 

ISP didn’t immediately respond to whether they are enforcing the law.

Wednesday, an expedited appeal was taken up by the Illinois Supreme Court with a hearing set for May.

“IT IS ORDERED that the motion to place appeal on an accelerated docket pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 311(b) is allowed,” the Illinois Supreme Court said in a filing Wednesday. “The record on appeal shall be filed with the Clerk of this Court by March 15, 2023. The appellants’ brief shall be filed on or before March 20, 2023. The appellees’ brief shall be filed on or before April 13, 2023. The reply brief shall be filed on or before April 27, 2023. Oral argument will be scheduled for the May 2023 term of court.”

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Caleb Alexander

Caleb Alexander

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