SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court opened its January term today with a relatively light docket, scheduling oral arguments in only seven cases during the next 10 days.
The docket contains four criminal cases and three civil cases, a lower total than all of the court's five terms in 2011.
One of those cases, Matthew D. Wilson et al., v. Cook County, etc., et al., No. 112026, asks the high court to weigh in on whether Cook County's ban on assault weapons violates state and federal constitutions.
Matthew D. Wilson and two other individuals sued the county in 2007, arguing that the county's Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban, enacted in 1993 and expanded in 2006, violates the Second Amendment. The circuit court threw out the suit, a decision affirmed by the 1st District Appellate Court.
After the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago invalidated Chicago's handgun ban, the Illinois Supreme Court remanded Wilson to the appellate court for further consideration.
Again, the appellate court affirmed the decision. In his petition for leave to appeal, Wilson argued that the court erred by using its same reasoning, despite the new decision of the nation's highest court.
"The court of appeals did not apply strict scrutiny because it found no fundamental right was involved," the appeal says, "and now holds the same even though McDonald established that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental."
Victor D. Quilici, a sole practitioner in River Grove and lead counsel on the plaintiffs' appeal, declined to comment on the arguments of the case, but said his clients are "just three ordinary guys" who acquired their guns legally and use them for recreation and home protection.
Stephen P. Halbrook, a Fairfax, Va., attorney who has argued Second Amendment cases before various state supreme courts, and co-counsel Edward E. Ronkowski of Mokena will handle oral arguments on Jan. 18, Quilici said.
The Cook County state's attorney's office, representing the county in the case, argued in its brief that the Second Amendment does not confer a right to assault weapons or large-capacity magazines. Local governments with dense urban populations hold significant interest in protecting citizens from such weapons, the state contends, and must have the power to regulate them.
"We feel that the Cook County ordinance balances the right of the public to defend themselves in their homes against the public's right to be safe in the streets from people carrying military-style weapons," said Paul A. Castiglione, an assistant state's attorney who will argue the case before the high court.
The dispute attracted the attention of a number of interest groups on both sides, with eight friend-of-the-court briefs filed. The Illinois Conservation Police Lodge, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Rifle Association of America, the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association, the Commonwealth Second Amendment and a group of 43 Illinois legislators all filed briefs on the plaintiffs' behalf.
Two briefs were filed supporting the defendant, one from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and one by the Legal Community Against Violence, the city of Chicago, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The court will also hear arguments Jan. 18 in Eileen Jackson v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, No. 111928, a case involving an aldermanic candidate removed from the ballot because she owed property taxes to the city.
Eileen Jackson, a staffer for former Alderman Ed Smith, objected to Carmelita Earls' candidacy in the 28th Ward, citing Earls improperly claimed homeowner's property tax exemptions on several properties and thus owed taxes. Illinois Municipal Code says candidates may not run for municipal office if they are in debt to that municipality.
Earls, operations commander for the Chicago Fire Department's Training Academy, showed proof she was not indebted to the city, but a 1st District judge ruled the unpaid Cook County property taxes qualified as a debt since the city receives some of that collection.
"The county treasurer acts as a collector for all the various government bodies," said sole practitioner James P. Nally of James P. Nally P.C., who represents Jackson. "The money is not the treasurer's money, it belongs to each of the varying taxing bodies."
Earls, represented by sole practitioner Randy Crumpton, argued in her petition for leave to appeal that the appellate court expanded the plain language of the statute by labeling taxes paid to the county as a debt to the city. Crumpton did not return a message requesting comment.
Also on Jan. 18, the court will hear Jane Doe 3, a minor, v. Jon White and McClean County Unit District No. 5 board of Directors, Nos. 112479 and 112501 cons., a case involving the public-duty rule, which exempts governmental entities from tort liability.
The court will hear arguments Tuesday and Wednesday in these cases:
• People v. Corey D. Clemons, No. 107821, concerning whether armed violence can be used to conduct a proportionate penalties analysis with armed robbery.
• People v. Tavares Hunt, No. 111089, regarding the use of confessions between a defendant and a jailhouse informant during the precharge phase of an investigation.
• People v. Silvestre Dominguez , No. 111336, regarding what should happen when a defendant is improperly admonished after entering a guilty plea.
• People v. Robert J. Chapman, No. 111896, concerning whether state code governing evidence of prior convictions may be applied in first-degree murder prosecutions.